Another chapter following the tragic death of Preston D. Nelson was closed today with the sentencing of Dalton Mikkelson.
Mikkelson waited patiently before the Judge Michael Rosborough called the hearing to order. He was dressed simply, and formally, in dress slacks and cowboy boots silently wringing his hands. Preston Nelson’s parents, Guy and Tammy were seated directly behind him in the courtroom.
Mikkleson’s charges are the result of the fatal accident that ended the life of Preston D. Nelson on April 14, near Readstown. It is alleged that Mikkleson, who was 17 at the time was the driver of a truck racing the Nelson truck. The accident occurred when the two trucks made contact.
Once before the judge, Mikkelson’s attorney Todd Schroeder presented a joint sentencing recommendation, which included a two-year deferment coupled probation and jail time.
Rosborough also inquired about restitution to the Nelson family, as nothing had been filed at the time of the hearing. Vernon County District Attorney Timothy Gaskell noted that the Nelson family did mention an estimate of $7,500 out-of-pocket expense for the funeral for their son as something that might be up for restitution. Judge Rosborough set the restitution at $7,500 subject to the state submitting an order from the Nelsons within 30 days.
Opening the court up for anyone in the audience to speak, Preston’s father, Guy Nelson, came forward.
Nelson who has been very open with his son’s death directly addressed Mikkelson, speaking in a firm, but caring tone.
“Personally, we do not have it out for Dalton or his family, it is a very unfortunate event,” said Nelson “I guess in my eyes, Dalton, we are fortunate to only have one loss.”
Nelson continued to speak, expressing his message practical words, which seemed to be aimed at the quiet, blushing Dalton.
“We all have made bad decisions, but we all have consequences,” Nelson said. “I drove home the other day, Dalton, and thought about how I don’t want to do anything to mess up your life. I’m sure, at least I hope you do, think about this every day.”
While this expression of emotion continued, throughout the courtroom the feelings were dim. Even Judge Rosborough and other court staff visibly showed emotion on their faces during Nelson’s statement.
“I hope when you’re sitting in jail you realize you’re getting a second chance, and you just have to get through it,” concluded Nelson. Stepping away from the podium and receiving a hug from the bailiff, as his wife sat silently with tears next to another Vernon County officer, who quietly showed her support for the Nelson family.
No others came forward to speak. Mikkelson’s attorney noted that his client had previously mentioned to the Nelson family that he would be emotionally unable to speak before the court and would be writing a letter to the family instead.
On the charge of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, Mikkleson pleaded “No Contest” in a clear, audible voice. In reckless driving causing great bodily harm Mikkelson pleaded not guilty, in a slightly lower voice, and on the second count of reckless-causing bodily harm driving he again, pleaded no contest as well. Judge Rosborough responded as saying “Do you know that by entering a plea of No Contest I will find you guilty?” to which Mikkelson answered simply “Yes.”
Judge Rosborough also explained to Mikkelson that by presenting this deferment agreement to the court that he is giving up his right to a trial. It was a point that Mikkelson indicated he understood.
Mikkelson’s attorney took his turn addressing the judge, explaining that Mikkelson has not downplayed his role in the tragedy.
“He’s a high school senior, somebody that is generally of good moral character and I’m confident that this incident is going to haunt Dalton longer than his sentence,” Schroeder said.
The attorney asked the judge to include Huber work release privileges with his sentence, for school, work and track practices. Expunction of Mikkleson’s record was also requested.
Following the request from Mikkelson’s attorney, Judge Rosborough took a moment to speak to the court before agreeing on sentencing.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Rosborough said. “And it seems that we’re all so worried about catching Ebola or getting shot by terrorists that we don’t realize that one of the most dangerous things is to get in our cars and drive down the highway. I would hazard a guess that everyone in this room, in their youth, found themselves deeming themselves as invincible and incapable of believing that they were being reckless, or driving too fast.”
This sentiment led the judge to share a experience of his own, from his youth with Mikkelson
“When I was your age, in fact, I even had hair about the same color and length, I had a drive a ’56 Oldsmobile too fast,” Rosoborough recalled. “And that was back before there were seatbelts and safety features. But that’s the way we operate in our youth. We do incredibly stupid things.”
Rosborough explained that some places in the state would not feel that the punishment Mikkelson is proposed to receive is enough and that they would “want to make an example” of him.
“To your benefit, the family involved aren’t the kind of people that are looking for revenge,” Rosborough said. “I just have to accept this is another tragedy that I have to preside over.”
As he continued his speech, Rosborough became audibly choked up with is emotions.
“I am feeling some emotion that I don’t normally feel, because a lot of tragic things come through the court system, but I am frustrated, and sad,” the judge said.
Rosborough also mentioned adding counseling treatment to Mikkelson sentencing.
“I’ve seen so many people in incidents like this who can’t keep their lives together after a tragedy and end up back in the court system,” Rosborough said. “Make changes in your life and go forth a better person and know that you are living two lives…yours and Preston’s.”
Judge Rosborough accepted the joint two-year deferment that was presented to him. The stipulations of the agreement include not violating the law as this would be ground to revoke the deferment.
Nothing more than a minor traffic offense will be allowed. The defendant was also instructed to keep the clerk of court and DA updated on his address and phone number, pay a $10 monthly processing fee, pay a victim/witness surcharge of $92 andprovide 80 hours of community service with verification. Mikkelson must also write a letter of apology to the Nelson family to be presented within 30 days, to which the Judge noted “you’re going to do your best to convey your sense of regret and sadness.” Mikkelson was also told there could be absolutely no consumption or possession of alcohol, during the two years and the counseling.
Mikkelson was also sentenced to two years probation with 90 days to be served in the Vernon County Jail to begin no later than January 5 and to pay court costs.
Judge Rosborough did however, deny the request for expunction.
“With as serious of a crime as this, you’ll have to deal with that record like everything else you are going through,” said Rosborough. “We don’t want to ruin your life, we want to see you go forth and make your family proud, and Preston’s family’s proud and do the best you can to be a better person. But, we all have to live with the consequences of our actions.”