MANTORVILLE — After a nearly hourlong, emotional hearing, Tanner Kruckeberg was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs Wednesday to begin serving his first 30-day jail sentence.
Tanner Ronald Kruckeberg, 25, of Dodge Center, pleaded guilty on Sept. 5 in Dodge County District Court to a single count of criminal vehicular homicide-operate a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.
Kruckeberg was behind the wheel of a Hummer H3 that struck a Mercury Milan from behind about 7:12 a.m. Sept. 7, 2018, near Claremont. The crash ultimately killed 43-year-old Rachel Harberts and her daughter, Emerson, 8. Harberts’ son, Jaxon, who was 12 at the time, survived the crash.
After a nearly hour-long, emotional hearing, Tanner Kruckeberg was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs today to begin serving his first 30-day jail sentence.
On Wednesday afternoon in front of a packed courtroom, Judge Jodi Williamson sentenced Kruckeberg to up to 10 years of probation.
But before Williamson handed down her sentence, Kruckeberg would speak on his own behalf and more than six of the people who loved and lost Rachel and Emerson would have a chance to share how the crash has impacted them.
“Jaxon and me, we are the only two left of our family,” said Brandon Harberts, Rachel’s husband.
Brandon and Rachel were married in 1999 and had started dating three years earlier after meeting at a softball game.
“I thought she was so beautiful she could never date a guy like me,” Brandon said.
Building a life together, the couple had two children despite struggles with infertility.
On Sept. 7, 2018, Brandon was at work when he received a call from the school where Rachel was a teacher, telling him that she was late that morning — something that never happened. A short time later, Brandon got a call from a Minnesota State Trooper.
Since the crash, Brandon said he has a hard time driving the classic car his family loved as it now reminds him of the things they did as a family.
For Rachel’s brother, Jeremy Post, the crash not only took his sister and his niece but also “corrupted” his once happy memories.
“This sucked the joy out of a part of my life — forever,” Post said.
“The crushing weight of their deaths fell on all of us and was completely devastating,” cousin Danielle Mair said. “The shock and pain does not go away.”
Speaking of her grandchildren, Rachel’s mother, Sharon Post, described Emerson as a beautiful, blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl who loved dresses.
“I know Emerson would have lit up this world and made a difference,” Post said of her granddaughter.
The girl’s paternal grandmother, Lynette Harberts described the young girl as one who loved singing, reading books and having her mother braid her hair everyday.
As for Jaxon, the crash cost him not only his mother and sister but also drastically changed his own life.
“Jaxon has been challenged more this last year than anyone should have to endure,” Sharon Post said.
Kruckeberg’s family support
Five letters of support were submitted to the court on behalf of Kruckeberg in advance the hearing.
In one letter, Kruckeberg’s younger sister wrote that since the crash, she has seen Tanner suffer each and every day.
“Not a day goes by that I can’t see the pain he is dealing with and the sadness in his eyes,” she wrote. “I can’t imagine what the other family is going through, and I send all my condolences to them, but I can see how hurt and sorry my brother is for what happened.”
In a letter written by Kruckeberg’s mother, Patty, she wrote, “Most of us are guilty of some type of distracted driving. I know I am. I’m very proud of my son for having the courage to admit it also,” she wrote. “I just wish people could see the hurt and pain Tanner carries with him everyday and know the kind, caring, loving man that I know he is.”
Kruckeberg’s grandmother, Eleanor Thompson, wrote that she prays her grandson can find peace and learn to get over his guilt.
“No amount of jail time is going to make him remember the family anymore - it is something he’ll never forget and will have to live with it for the rest of his life,” she wrote. ”It was a terrible tragic accident that leaves us asking God … Why?”
As part of the sentence, he will serve 30 days in jail each year for five years to mark the anniversary of the fatal crash. He may be eligible for work release during his jail sentence. Williamson also handed down a 57-month stayed prison sentence.
His driver's license will likely be suspended as a result of the conviction. The state’s Division of Vehicle Service makes that determination once it receives notification of the conviction.
Kruckeberg’s probation has a number of conditions, including that he follow all state and federal laws, remain drug and alcohol free and submit to random testing as directed, not drive without a valid driver’s license and insurance and complete a driver improvement program as approved by his probation agent.
Neither attorney, Special Assistant Dodge County Attorney Geoffrey A. Hjerleid or Kruckeberg’s attorney, Chris Ritts, said much during the hearing having already presented the court with a joint sentencing recommendation. Ritts declined to comment after the hearing.
Reading a letter he had prepared, Kruckeberg said he wanted “everyone to know I blame nobody but myself in all of it.”
“I apologize for so much pain I have caused you guys,” Kruckeberg said to Rachel and Emerson’s family and friends. “I will never forget what happened that day. I do not expect forgiveness.”
Before adopting the recommendation and handing down her sentence, Judge Williamson spoke about what she saw as an epidemic of distracted driving in the country. She said she hoped that awareness and handling of the issue rose to the level of driving under the influence of alcohol.
As for Kruckeberg’s actions?
“It was his choice to drive recklessly and unintentionally caused two lives to be lost,” Williamson said. “He did not intend that, but he made a choice.”