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Jail, not prison for distracted driver who killed teacher, daughter

Tanner Kruckeberg avoids prison sentence; admits distraction caused by setting down cell phone led to rear-end crash in Dodge County.

MANTORVILLE, Minn — It was an hour of tears inside a Dodge County courtroom, as the family of Rachel and Emerson Harberts talked about the impact of their deaths.

Rachel, a Blooming Prairie first grade teacher, was driving to school in September 2018 with Emerson, her 8-year-old daughter, and Jaxon, her now-12-year-old son.

Troopers believe Rachel was stopped on Highway 14, her blinker on, ready to turn left, and the defendant never hit the brakes before rear-ending her.

Tanner Kruckeberg admitted he was distracted, putting down his cell phone.  The criminal complaint also says he was using a banking app.

He pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide and was looking at 3 to 5 years in prison under Minnesota's sentencing guidelines. But that's not what he got.

"Everyone thought it was appropriate not for him to be sentenced to prison," said prosecutor Geoffrey Hjerleid.

Hjerleid said the victims' family agreed to a plea bargain that keeps Kruckeberg out of prison, instead serving a grand total of five months in prison with work release. He will also be on probation for 10 years.

A large part of the reasoning given in court is that the crash was an accident, and phone distraction is common.

RELATED: Dodge County man pleads guilty in distracted driving crash that killed a woman and her daughter

"How many of us have done that? Probably too many of us have done that," Hjerleid said.

Other factors included the opinion Kruckeberg showed remorse, had no felony record, and would be a good candidate for probation.

But the sentence comes despite Kruckeberg's driving record: 10 speeding tickets including one that happened after the fatal crash. And a prior conviction for texting while driving.

Rachel's brother Jeremy Post railed against distracted driving, tearfully saying, "Acting like it's OK or anything less than a choice is not OK."

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