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Fatal crash sentence lands Duluth funeral director in jail over the holidays

Duluth funeral director Daniel Dougherty will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in a correctional center after being sentenced for the March 15, 2009, crash that killed two men.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Heather Sweetland pronounced the 90-day sentence at the conclusion of an emotional sentencing hearing Tuesday morning in which members of the families of Timothy Schlies and Hans

Warren told about the pain they experienced as a result of their deaths.

At defense attorney David Keegan's request, Sweetland agreed to send Dougherty to the Northeast Regional Correction Center rather than the St. Louis County Jail. With good behavior, he could be out in 60 days.

Dougherty, who was wearing a dark suit, showed no emotion as the sentence was read. He handed a billfold, keys and a wad of bills to a family member and was placed in handcuffs by two sheriff's deputies. Grim-faced as he was escorted from the courtroom, he whispered something to a family member.

About a dozen friends and family of Dougherty left quickly, declining to answer questions from the media.

Schlies and Warren family members lingered in the courtroom, exchanging hugs. They had little to say as they emerged from the courtroom. Asked if she was satisfied with the sentence, Rachel Dean, who had been Warren's fiancé, said, "Under the circumstances, yes."

Contacted later, Hermantown city prosecutor Shawn Reed, who prosecuted the case, said only, "We're pleased with the sentence." Keegan declined comment.

Dougherty ran a red light on U.S. Highway 53 in Hermantown on March 15, 2009. His GMC Yukon crashed broadside into a Toyota Camry driven by Schlies as it crossed the highway on Arrowhead Road. Schlies died at the scene. Warren, his passenger, was critically injured and died later at a Duluth hospital.

Dougherty was charged with driving under the influence of Ambien, a prescription sleeping pill, as well as careless driving and failure to obey a traffic control signal. Dougherty testified during his trial that he had accidentally taken the Ambien, thinking it was a pill for cholesterol. But he denied that he had been driving under the influence.

The six-member jury agreed, convicting him on Oct. 28 of careless driving and failing to obey a traffic signal, but finding him not guilty of driving under the influence.

Loved ones of Schlies and Warren who spoke at Tuesday's hearing demanded jail time, and said Dougherty was getting off easy because of his wealth and status in the community.

Had she been the driver and had Dougherty's son and best friend been killed, "I would have been convicted of a felony and would now be serving a prison sentence," said Jane Warren, Hans Warren's mother. She didn't look at Dougherty, who was seated immediately to her right, as she read her statement in a voice that shook with emotion.

"I cannot forgive Daniel Dougherty or the court system," Warren said. "It's my opinion there wasn't any justice done in this case."

Breanne Defoe, Tim Schlies' older sister, read a statement on behalf of their mother, Kimberly Schlies, and then added words of her own.

"I know that the defendant did not wake up on March 15, 2009, and tell himself that he was going to kill two young men and destroy their families," Defoe said, reading in a firm, strong voice. "But the issue is not about intent. It's about having responsibility. ... The defendant killed my baby brother, Tim, and his best friend, Hans, because he wasn't responsible. He was careless."

Defoe read the painful details of her brother's autopsy report. "My brother was literally crushed to death," she concluded.

Keegan argued against a jail sentence, noting that Dougherty had an "absolutely clear prior record." Acknowledging the tragic circumstance, Keegan added, "Grieving families are not in the best position, and never will be, to make an informed decision."

Dougherty stood to deliver a short statement, saying he understood the grief the families felt and noting that he had buried two of his own children.

Dougherty said he had offered to plead guilty to the two charges he was found guilty of but was told he would be prosecuted for DUI because the families wanted him to serve jail time.

"I don't understand why now they request jail time, when I was not guilty of DUI," he said.

But Sweetland imposed the jail time, along with a $500 fine, for the careless driving charge and a $50 fine for the stoplight violation. "The court cannot get over the fact that two people are dead," she said.

Sweetland denied Keegan's request that the sentence be stayed pending an appeal.