By Colleen Kelly, a parent of two daughters, who grew up and live in South Minneapolis.

When my daughter Anya Magnuson was hit by a speeding SUV on Hennepin Avenue near 29th Street in Uptown in October 2021, criminal consequences for the driver were the furthest thing from our family’s mind.

Instead, we were consumed by thoughts of her very survival. She was hit while walking across the street with two friends — on their way to a club after working at a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. The driver had run the previous red light and had a suspended license. He did not brake at all, instead driving through her, throwing her about 40 feet. She was unconscious and rushed to HCMC as a “red trauma” case.

Anya was on a ventilator and in ICU for 16 days. She had multiple surgeries to repair fractures of her pelvis, femur, both tibias, one fibula and her right eye socket. She had skull and sacrum fractures. And those weren’t even the biggest problem.

Because of the speed at which she was hit, Anya had a severe traumatic brain injury. She was not responsive at all for days and spent nearly two months hospitalized and in acute rehab.

The next months were both a blur and a nightmare. She needed 24/7 care and was barely verbal at first. And as she did recover, the serious, lifelong impacts of the brain injury became more apparent. She would not be able to return to her full-time job as a communications coordinator in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. It would be more than six months before she would be able to live on her own — and only then, with family support. Her father, Jeff, quit his job and was with her every day. I slept in a large closet in the handicapped-accessible apartment she had to be moved to after acute rehab. She was frequently suicidal.

Anya Magnuson exhausted during her first rehab session at Knapp/HCMC in November 2021 after a driver hit her as she was crossing Hennepin Avenue. Photo courtesy of Colleen Kelly.

And amid all of that, we had to navigate car insurance, health insurance, disability coverage — and the criminal justice system, which added its own horror.

Because the driver had not fled, was not drunk, and was not “egregiously” speeding (defined as 20+ mph over limit), I was told by police investigating the crash that felony charges were out of the picture. In the end, the driver – who had a long list of previous citations, moving violations and tickets for driving with a suspended license — pled guilty to gross misdemeanor criminal vehicular operation causing bodily harm. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, 45 days of electronic home monitoring and two years of probation. He was ordered to pay restitution, a pitiful amount that in no way makes up for what happened to Anya. And he hasn’t paid a penny of that.

Forty-five days. Think about that. Forty-five days in jail for driving on a suspended license, speeding and nearly killing someone.

Anya’s story is just one of the many cases that reflect the systemic failure to treat serious vehicular crimes as the grave threat that they are.

This issue recently came into sharp focus after five young women were killed at the intersection of Lake Street and 2nd Avenue South. The man accused of causing the high-speed collision recently had his driving privileges restored in Minnesota, despite going to prison in 2020 for permanently injuring a pedestrian in a California vehicular crash.

After I learned of his history, anger compelled me to write a Twitter thread, in which I pointed out the absurdity of how vehicular crimes are prosecuted and sentenced. Case after case of heartache, lost lives, and justice not served.

A drunk driver with a suspended license. Ran a red light going 85 mph. Killed a 22-year-old. Sentenced to less than 2.5 years in jail. The victim’s family objected. Didn’t matter. The list goes on, and in each case, the driver did not have a valid license.

And while the loss of those five women to a reckless car crash has focused attention on the problem, there’s no simple solution. No simple solution to the lax prosecution, the need for stronger sentencing, and stronger consequences – in hopes that this would potentially decrease this life-altering and deadly behavior.

Suspending a license is meaningless for someone who’s shown that rules don’t apply to them. The same goes for permanent license revocation, which isn’t even an option under Minnesota law anyway. Sentencing guidelines should certainly be higher. Cars and SUVs weigh up to 6,000 pounds. They are absolutely deadly weapons when driven recklessly.

In the cases I’ve spotlighted above, drivers were sentenced to far less than the maximum sentence. Is it the fault of judges who accept these pleas? In this case, a judge said that driving 65 mph in a residential neighborhood “was not grossly negligent” and acquitted the driver of felony charges, despite the fact that the crash killed a passenger.

On Oct. 24, 2022, one year after the crash, Anya Magnuson spent the day thanking and meeting with two of the EMTs who first treated her on Hennepin Avenue, pictured here, doctors and nurses at HCMC, and therapists at Knapp and outpatient clinics. Photo courtesy of Colleen Kelly.

Certainly there’s a need for comprehensive traffic calming measures, including on Hennepin Avenue, at a time when pedestrian deaths are soaring. If the legislature moves forward again with a plan to automatically expunge misdemeanors from criminal records, they should make sure that criminal vehicular operation charges are excluded.

And while there is not one quick fix, or easy solution, it is long past time to get serious about what is happening on our streets.