PRESTON — An emotional day in court ended Monday with a Stewartville woman being sentenced to 10 years of probation for her role in a crash that killed a woman in the fall of 2017.
Sarah Nichole Sexton, 38, was sentenced in Fillmore County District Court by Judge Matthew Opat to 58 months in prison — stayed for 10 years. If Sexton follows conditions of her supervised probation, she will not serve any prison time.
A probationary jail sanction was handed down, and Sexton was ordered to spend 45 days in Fillmore County Jail beginning on Oct. 17, to mark the anniversary of the crash. She was also ordered to spend seven days in jail each year for the remaining nine years of her probation. Opat also sentenced her to 300 hours of community service.
"She can do more for society through service than she can by sitting in a jail cell," said Opat.
According to the criminal complaint, Fillmore County Sheriff's deputies were called to a crash at the intersection of County Road 2 and County Road 3 on Oct. 17, 2017. A Chevrolet Suburban was found on its side in the ditch. A Nissan Murano was found 75 yards northeast of the intersection in a cornfield. Neither driver was able to recall the crash.
Sexton and her 13-year-old daughter were in the Suburban. Both suffered minor injuries. The Murano was driven by Duane Hodge, of Stewartville, who suffered severe injuries, including a broken jaw, broken foot, broken neck and broken ribs. He also had to have intestines removed. His wife, Joan Hodge, died from her injuries after being airlifted to Mayo Clinic Hospital–Saint Marys.
The Minnesota State Patrol reconstructed the crash, and determined Sexton failed to stop at the stop sign and yield to traffic. The airbag control module obtained from her car showed that 0.5 seconds prior to impact, the vehicle was traveling 53 to 54 mph and the brakes were not applied.
Sexton pleaded not guilty in December to charges of felony second-degree manslaughter, criminal vehicular homicide, two counts of felony criminal vehicular operation and five gross misdemeanor, misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor traffic charges. A jury in Fillmore County District Court found her guilty in August of all nine charges.
Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson asked the court to sentence Sexton to prison.
"At the end of the day, whatever she's sentenced to, she'll be able to come home and hug and kiss her kids and family," said Corson. "That cannot be said for Mrs. Hodge."
Duane Hodge presented a victim statement before the sentencing, saying that his injuries are lifelong and the pain he suffered lead him to contemplate suicide several times. Diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression from the crash, Hodge said he still has pieces of glass embedded in his face.
Hodge said he's now forced to live without his wife, who was his best friend, at a time when they planned on tackling their bucket list together.
He explained how Joan was "a voice for the needy and mother to the motherless."
Joan Hodge was a registered nurse for more than 40 years at Mayo Clinic. She'd been retired for five years when the crash occurred.
"I have shoe-boxes full from people all over the world, thanking her for her care," Duane Hodge said.
Hodge said his wife lived with a fear of being struck by a vehicle after she was hit by a car in high school.
"What her biggest fear was took her life," Hodge said.
Sexton's attorney, Zachary Bauer, spoke before the sentencing how the two families involved in the case were once close. But Sexton was advised not to speak to the Hodge family or relatives during the trial, and Bauer said that may have come off like she was not remorseful.
Sexton also spoke before sentencing, and expressed how hurt she was to no longer receive wave backs from members of the Hodge family. The feelings kept her from going out in public in fear she would see the families still hurt from the loss of who Bauer.
"I felt like fun is not for me anymore, because I see these people suffering," said Sexton.
Having lost her husband to cancer years ago, Sexton said she knew what it felt like to cope with such a loss.
"Our family knows what it feels like to be missing one of your own," said Sexton. "To my neighbors who eventually became family to us, you will always be in my heart."