'Smiley face' death crash drunken driver gets 9 years for killing teenage boy


A drunk driver who posted a "smiley face" picture of his car damaged in a crash that eventually killed a 16-year-old student has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

Michaael Vanwagner, 24, of Coon Rapids, was traveling at more than 60 mph and was three times over the alcohol limit when he smashed into the rear of Jason McCarthy's car on Minnesota 252 in Brooklyn Park on July 22 last year.

McCarthy died in hospital a week later.

On an emotional day in court Friday, eight people who knew the Champlin High School student recalled their time with him and described their devastation at his tragic death, according to a release by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

"I will always be his mom, but I don't get to mother him anymore," McCarthy's mother Tara told the judge. "I don't get to watch him grow. I want him (Vanwagner) to change places with my sweet Jason. But I can't have that. Certainly my life is over, but I have to keep going for my daughter and my husband."

The Star Tribune notes that after Vanwagner was himself released from hospital in the wake of the crash, he posted a picture of his mangled car to his Facebook page, writing: "That’s her front end after I got done with her lol," adding a "smiley face" at the end.

Even though the sentencing guidelines suggested a sentence of between 67 and 93 months for criminal vehicular homicide with a guilty plea, Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam went above these guidelines to sentence Vanwagner to 108 months, the newspaper notes.

'I wish it was me who had died'

Vanwagner's defense team had explained that he had been civilly committed twice for mentally illness with a chemical dependency, and is bi-polar.

A tearful Vanwagner told the court: "Words cannot describe how sorry I am for what I have done. I wish it was me who had died."

Along with the high alcohol level, other aggravating factors in the case is that he was driving without a license or insurance, had ignored conditions of his probation, and had earlier convictions for domestic assault by strangulation and making terroristic threats.

Judge Quam said: "It's not all on us. That is what (mental health) commitment is all about, that's what probation is all about. We have to rely on you to use those tools. The fact that you didn't caused the tragedy we have all been talking about today."

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