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Man who caused disabling crash violates probation again, gets jail time

A Crow Wing County District Court judge didn't give any sympathy to a 41-year-old Merrifield man who said he didn't fulfill his community services hours due to medical issues.

Vaughn Gentry walks down a hallway of the Crow Wing County Judicial Center after his probation hearing involving a crash on Highway 3 in 2015 that left Macy Kujava disabled. Forum News Service file photo
Vaughn Gentry walks down a hallway of the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in 2016 after his probation hearing involving a crash on Highway 3 in 2015 that left Macy Kujava disabled. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch file photo

A Crow Wing County District Court judge didn't give any sympathy to a 41-year-old Merrifield man who said he didn't fulfill his community services hours due to medical issues.

"You think you have pain ... think of them," Judge Dale A. Wolf said to Vaughn Charles Gentry during a probation violation hearing Friday afternoon in Courtroom 3.

Judge Wolf was referring to the family whose lives were changed forever that January day in 2015, when Gentry was involved in a two-vehicle crash that seriously injured Macy Kujava and her 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, on County Highway 3 near Legionville Road north of Brainerd. Gentry was driving with a suspended license.

The crash left Kujava, 26, completely disabled. She lives in a nursing home and will for the rest of her life. Sophia, who will be 7 in October, has since recovered from her injuries, but will live with physical scars and emotional trauma for the rest of her life, family members said.

Gentry was charged with careless driving, failure to reduce speed where required, duty to drive with due care where speed is greater than reasonable and driving after suspension-all misdemeanors and a petty misdemeanor after the crash. Gentry entered into a plea agreement before he was sentenced in September 2015-admitting his guilt to driving after suspension and for driving above the speed limit during the crash. Charges of careless driving and failing to reduce speed when required were dismissed as part of the agreement.

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On Friday, Gentry-in blue jeans and a gray sports jacket-appeared alongside his Minneapolis attorney, Rachael Goldberger, in court for a probation violation, as he has not completed all of his community service hours. When Gentry was sentenced in 2015, he served 30 days in Crow Wing County Jail and was committed to completing 240 hours of community service.

According to the court ruling in 2015, if Gentry violated the conditions of his probation, he could face another 60 days in jail-which was what the prosecution was recommending. Assistant Crow Wing County Attorney Stephanie Shook represented the state and Attorney Steve Lastovich represented Kujava's family.

Kujava sat in her wheelchair in the back of the courtroom gallery during the hearing, along with other family members, including her father, Mark Vanek and her grandmother, Kathy Anderson. Several times, Kujava flailed her arm up and down on the wheelchair making noises, as family members cared for her. Vanek said his daughter cannot speak, walk or eat on her own.

The hearing

Gentry admitted to violating his probation to the judge. He told the judge he hasn't been able to complete the number of community service hours because he physically cannot, stating he has "a lot of medical issues." Gentry said he was involved in a crash in August 2012, when he was struck by a truck, and since then has had numerous surgeries. He said he broke his back and has issues with his shoulders, and his range of motion in his arms is not good.

Gentry said he did community service work at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and at Heritage House, a nursing home facility-both in the Brainerd lakes area. Gentry said the community service work with the corps was too hard physically for him because of his medical issues. He said he had to have another surgery after tearing a shoulder muscle doing his hours at the engineer's campgrounds.

The prosecution argued Gentry did not do community service work at the Heritage House, as staff "had no idea who he was for the past year and a half," and that he falsified the paperwork. Shook provided a handwritten document to the judge.

Goldberger said the paperwork was not falsified. She said Gentry had his sister-in-law, who works at Heritage House, do his paperwork. Gentry said he played cards with the residents at the Heritage House and helped them with tasks, such as getting them coffee.

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"He is going to play cards while she (Kujava) is in a wheelchair," Wolf said.

Goldberger told the judge Gentry feels horrible about what happened to Kujava and her daughter. She said Gentry wasn't drinking at the time of the crash and he didn't mean to "plow" into Kujava's vehicle. She said it was a tragic event and he has paid restitution to the family.

Goldberger said Gentry has been going through a lot of difficult things since the crash, including the death of his father and his medical issues.

Gentry violated the terms of his probation in 2016, when he still owed more than half of the nearly $4,500 in restitution payments. Gentry admitted to violating his probation, which was extended through this month as a way to provide better monitoring while Gentry continued making restitution payments.

Wolf said Gentry should consider himself lucky, as the family just wants him to be in jail. Wolf also told Gentry about his own personal issues with his own shoulders and how he has recovered from his surgeries after months of rehabilitation.

Lastovich raised his hand to speak and the judge allowed him to do so. Lastovich told the judge he should not believe anything Gentry tells him. Lastovich said Gentry is telling the court how sorry he is and how he feels bad, but "this is his ninth time" of being cited for having a suspended license.

Wolf said he wanted to get to the bottom of whether the community service hours were true or false from the Heritage House. He asked for both parties help to gather the evidence of the documents.

The court then took a recess and the attorneys met with their clients, followed by meeting with the judge in his chambers. When the parties returned and the hearing continued, Wolf told Gentry he could have done "so much more (in community service work), but you didn't. There are so many things you could have done."

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The judge ruled Gentry would serve 30 days in county jail. However, with his medical issues and with what jail staff can handle and liabilities-Gentry will go home and go through detox of his pain medications and report to jail Oct. 25.

Moving forward: Macy's Law

Sue Vanek, who is Kujava's mother unable to make the hearing, stated in an email the family continues their battle to get lawmakers to pass stricter laws on those who drive without a license and/or insurance.

"Driving unlicensed has once again become a hot topic, with the very unfortunate death of the Wayzata Police Officer (Bill Mathews)," Vanek stated. "Our battle to change the current, weak laws with Macy's Bill has more attention, too. Rep. Josh Heintzeman, and myself have had numerous calls. They are encouraging us to keep pursuing this. We have no intention to stop until Macy's Bill becomes Macy's Law. Total strangers, those close to us and other victims are expressing that current law for operating a vehicle unlicensed isn't effective in deterring and lacks consequences for the level of damage and injury being caused."

Heintzeman, who attended the hearing to support the family, said there is an informational hearing Tuesday in St. Paul with Sen. Warren Limmer, and other members of the Senate Public Transportation Committee to discuss what can be done regarding driving without a license.

Heintzeman said the bill has moved through the process twice and he has learned a lot. He said there are significant challenges to get the bill passed to add stiffer penalties, as there are many other laws on the book that trigger driver's license suspension.

"There are folks who are concerned that the gross misdemeanor would compound a situation that is already complicated," Heintzeman said. "Macy's story is really compelling because it shows how incredibly horrible it is for a family to think about a family member who would not be otherwise hurt, except for somebody else breaking the law and that really is the bottom line."

"If he wasn't on the road this wouldn't have happened," Mark Vanek said after the hearing. "This has been a tough deal. This changed our lives in an instant, forever. She will never have a full life anymore."

Vanek said there hasn't been many changes with Kujava since the crash. She still cannot talk, walk and has a feeding tube.

Sophie, who is in first grade and is doing well physically, and her dad Casey are living with the Vaneks.

North Memorial helicopter lifts off the scene of a traffic crash on County Highway 3 north of Brainerd in January of 2015. Macy Kujava and her daughter, Spohie were seriously injured in the crash. Forum News Service file photo
North Memorial helicopter lifts off the scene of a traffic crash on County Highway 3 north of Brainerd in January of 2015. Macy Kujava and her daughter, Sophie were seriously injured in the crash. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

Related Topics: CRIME
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