MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Golden Valley man will serve the maximum time in prison for causing a drunk driving crash that killed a young Minneapolis couple.
Philip Scott Bertelson, 56, was more than two times the legal limit for blood alcohol and was speeding at over 100 mph when he slammed into a couple stopped at a traffic light on Highway 55 and Morgan Avenue on Nov. 3, 2013.
Family members of Melvin Jones and Brandy Banks-Sutta have waited nearly two years for Bertelson’s sentencing on two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide.
Relatives are still grieving the losses of two innocent loved ones, who were killed instantly in the violent rear-end crash.
“We finally got justice for them, Brandy and Melvin,” said Banks-Sutta’s mother, LouAnn Pendleton.
Bertelson listened to tearful victim impact statements from five of the family members. Each of them spoke of being hurt beyond words and of their lives changing forever.
Then, Bertelson told the court that he’d been sober for the past 30 years, but began drinking again after losing a job in 2013.
He also admitted that on the night of the crash, Bertelson had mixed alcohol with the prescription drug, Ativan, after taking two of the tablets.
Bertelson’s defense attorney asked Hennepin County Judge Laurie Miller for a downward departure from the state sentencing guidelines of 48 months prison time, based on the defendant’s clean criminal record and lack of prior DUIs.
But after considering the gravity of his crime, Miller imposed the maximum 96 months in prison for the consecutive felony convictions.
“Ninety-six months is a lot of time, but it doesn’t matter how much time you give somebody. Two lives are still lost and that’s tragic,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman after the sentencing.
At the close of the proceedings, family members spoke to reporters and expressed thanks for a judicial system they thought had failed them.
Bertelson wasn’t charged with the crime until six months after the accident. Another judge had previously allowed him to remain free pending trial without even posting bond. Also, the alcohol violation against Bertelson was dropped due to a technicality in the way his blood sample was taken.
Still, relatives say no amount of justice could ever repair their shattered hearts.
“You didn’t kill just Brandy and Melvin, you killed too many hearts and souls and family members and friends, this extends beyond them,” said Banks-Sutta’s aunt, Margaret Morgan.
Bertelson will have to serve at least two thirds of his prison time, which will be 64 months, before he is eligible for any supervised release.