RACINE — Emotions ran high in a packed courtroom as a 27-year-old Caledonia man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday for reportedly driving drunk and killing a father and daughter in a 2016 car crash.
“We are here for sentencing on what everyone has conceded is a tragic case,” said Racine County Circuit Court Judge Emily Mueller. “We all understand the gravity of these sentencings.”
In December, Ruohonen pleaded no contest to two felony counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
For each count, Mueller sentenced Ruohonen to 30 years, split between 20 years of incarceration and 10 years of extended supervision. The sentences will run concurrently. The maximum sentence is a $100,000 fine and/or 40 years in prison per count.
“The gravity of this offense and the impact on this family cannot be measured,” Mueller said. “It is a profound loss that this court doesn’t have the ability to make right. Making it right would bring these two people back and I can’t do that ... this was a loss that was caused by the defendant’s decision to drive drunk.”
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At about 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2016, near the intersection of Four Mile and Short roads in Caledonia, police say Ruohonen crashed his four-door pickup truck into the back of a car driven by Kevin M. Dalley, 39. Dalley’s daughter Emily, 9, and another daughter, 6, were both in the car at the time.
Kevin and Emily were killed in the crash. The 6-year-old was injured but survived.
The Dalleys were just yards from their home when the crash occurred. The impact reportedly was so powerful that an officer reported he “was unable to discern where the truck ended and the sedan started.”
Impact ‘cannot be measured’
Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson began by pointing out the seriousness of what Ruohonen had done and the impact on not only the Dalley family, but the community.
“Obviously, the impact of this and what happened here really cannot be measured,” Hanson said.
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Hanson mentioned that the crash scene so affected the officer who first responded that he was in court for the sentencing.
Jennifer Dalley, widow of Kevin and mother of Emily, was in court but asked not to be photographed or interviewed.
Hanson addressed Ruohonen’s 2011 drunken driving charge, in which he had a 0.21 blood-alcohol concentration.
“I’m not here to tell you he’s (Ruohonen) an evil monster who set out that morning to kill two members of the Dalley family,” Hanson said. “I think he’s a person who just didn’t know when to say ‘when’ and made a terrible mistake.”
Although the state did not request a specific amount of time in prison, a “substantial prison” time was recommended.
“Mr. Ruohonen asks you to give him a chance at a life and family, but let’s remember that we’re not just here for him today,” Hanson said. “He took that away from the Dalleys and has forced them to find a new kind of normal.”
‘Deeply, deeply sorry’
Craig Mastantuono, Ruohonen’s attorney, said Ruohonen has been apologetic since the crash and done whatever he could to atone for and take responsibility for his actions.
“Having been a witness to him (Ruohonen) and his reactions from the day after he made this tragic error in judgment that resulted in this terrible loss, until now, he has never been anything but deeply, deeply sorry for the harm that he caused that, frankly, his words nor my words can characterize accurately — and I won’t attempt to do that,” Mastantuono said.
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Mastantuono went on to describe how after Ruohonen was out on bond, he worked daily to pay his mortgage, car payment and car insurance to be able to liquidate the assets and contribute to restitution for the Dalley family.
“We tell them all the time to honor conditions, to accept responsibility, to act in a way that’s contrary to their actions on the worst day of their lives when they cause the most harm, and I really believe, as an officer of the court, that we have to mean that those things matter when we tell people to do them,” Mastantuono said.
He asked the court to consider sentencing Ruohonen to five to 10 years in prison.
“I think it’s substantial for somebody who has never been incarcerated to go to prison for 10 years,” Mastantuono said. “I think when Mr. Ruohonen is 10 years older than now, at that point we enter into more of an arbitrary assessment of when enough is enough in terms of incarceration.”
After his attorney spoke, Ruohonen, who spent a large portion of the court proceedings in tears, addressed the court. Between heavy sobs that made him nearly unintelligable, Ruohonen apologized to the Dalley family.
“I want to start out by saying that I’m so truly sorry to the victims’ family and anyone else negatively affected,” he said. “I’d do anything to take back what happened. I would trade places with them in a heartbeat. ... I’ll say it a million times and it will never be enough; I’m so truly sorry.”
Mueller’s sentence was nearly twice what the defense requested. She explained her reasoning.
“I believe that the time that has been requested by the defense, that is 5 to 10 years, is wholly inadequate to reflect the gravity of this offense and that 20 years provides both substantial period of incarceration but also the potential of rehabilitation of this defendant,” she said.
“I understand for the family that no time can be enough, and I understand your desire that this court impose a sentence in which Mr. Ruohonen will not get out of prison,” Mueller said.
“But the law and justice and some sort of mercy require me to consider all of these components: both the extraordinary gravity of this offense, the character of Mr. Ruohonen and his, I believe, sincere attempts to try to begin to atone,” Mueller added. “And also (to consider), the protection of the public and I believe that under all of the circumstances, this sentence provides that balance.”
“I would trade places with them in a heartbeat.” Levi Ruohonen, defendant
in 2016 double fatal crash