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Rochester driver who killed teen in 2021 sentenced to 8 years in prison

Sterling Haukom, 35, guilty to killing an 18-year-old girl in February 2021 while drunk behind the wheel of a truck. According to Haukom's statements, he had had around 15 drinks before getting behind the wheel.

Sterling Haukom
Sterling Haukom
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ROCHESTER — A Rochester man was sentenced Monday, May 23, 2022, in Olmsted County Court to eight years in prison for killing an 18-year-old woman in February 2021 while drunk behind the wheel of a truck.

Sterling Haukom, 35, pleaded guilty in December 2021 to a charge of criminal vehicular homicide-operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol in the death of 18-year-old Erika Cruz. With good behavior, Haukom will be released on supervised probation in a little over five years.

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Haukom’s lawyer, Catherine Hanson, of Rochester, had argued for a 96-month stayed prison sentence along with probation and an annual 30-day jail sentence to be served during the anniversary of Cruz’s death.

Cruz was on her way home from work about 10:20 p.m. Feb. 24, 2021, when her vehicle was hit at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 12th Street Southeast, just blocks from her home. She died as a result of her injuries.

Chief Deputy Olmsted County Attorney Eric Woodford had argued for an executed 96-month sentence due to Haukom already violating his probation during the trial.

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Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for between a 41- and 57-month sentence.

Woodford argued that Haukom had already violated his release conditions months before and while he had a “plethora” of support in the community, he still chose to get behind the wheel and angrily drive through a red light that December night.

Hanson told District Judge Jacob Allen that Haukom suffered from severe mental health and addiction issues that came to a boil right before the December 2021 crash that killed Cruz.

Hanson had asked for the court not to have a visceral gut reaction that Haukom’s crime required prison time.

“He’s responsible and that’s not disputed,” Hanson said, adding that what best serves justice is Haukom getting the treatment he needs.

Haukom apologized to the Cruz family in attendance and asked for forgiveness.

“I couldn’t imagine living my life without my sister,” he said.

Haukom told Allen he would accept a 96-month sentence if given to him “but I do humbly ask that you don’t.”

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While Allen called Hanson’s sentencing memorandum one of the best he’s ever seen, he rejected her pleas for probation for Haukom.

“As a direct result of your drunken angry driving, Erika lost her life,” Allen said, adding that putting Haukom on probation might be what’s best for him but the significance of his offense was so severe that it would overwhelm consideration for just probation.

“A just and fair sentence has consequences,” Allen said.

Statements from Cruz’s father, Rene Cruz, and brother, Erik Cruz were read to the court through an Olmsted County Victim’s Advocate. A statement from Cruz’s mother, Marcela Cruz, was read by a family member to the court.

All three statements highlighted Cruz’s ambitious and passionate nature. She was attending the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and had a bright smile that had a positive effect on everyone she met, according to the statements.

Rene Cruz wrote that he has not had time grieve since the death of his daughter, often going between supporting his family and his own mental well being.

Rene Cruz wrote that when he first arrived at the crash he kept looking for train tracks because of how badly mangled was the car his daughter had been driving.

“This tragedy will never end for us,” Rene Cruz wrote. “No amount of jail time will ever bring my daughter back.”

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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