Ashen-Shugar-Aren Diehl said she couldn't see the justice when the man who put her in a wheelchair received a sentence of probation and a year in jail Tuesday in State District Court in Duluth.
Robert Buehlman huffed a chemical compound from an aerosol can, ran a red light and mowed his car into Diehl on a Superior Street sidewalk, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down -- and under Minnesota sentencing guidelines he won't have to go to prison. He will have to spend a year in jail and could go to prison if he violates probation in the next 10 years.
Buehlman, 29, of Bayfield pleaded guilty in September to criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm and four other crimes. St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Smith filed a motion requesting that the court depart from sentencing guidelines and send the defendant to prison because he treated Diehl with particular cruelty by not seeking help for her and fleeing the scene with the victim's young daughter present.
Diehl, 33, of Duluth, suffered a shattered vertebra, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, bruises all over her body and has no feeling in her legs.
"I don't think a probationary sentence is sufficient," Diehl said outside the courtroom. "I have a life sentence, a wheelchair. The doctors don't believe I will ever walk. Most of the times they are right, barring a miracle of some kind. So for him to get probation is almost a miscarriage."
A woman who was riding with Buehlman at the time of the Aug. 11 accident testified that she saw him put an aerosol can to his mouth and push the spray button. The defendant was inhaling the chemical difluoroethane from a popular computer-cleaning spray known as "Dust-Off." The woman said Buehlman then blacked out and drove onto the sidewalk.
To depart from state sentencing guidelines, Judge John DeSanto would have to find "substantial and compelling reasons" to do so. DeSanto found that there were substantial and compelling reasons to double Buehlman's guideline sentence from 23 to 46 months, but he didn't find sufficient reason to execute that sentence and send Buehlman to prison.
Sentencing guidelines call for Buehlman's prison sentence to be stayed for probation and that's what DeSanto followed. He placed Buehlman on 10 years' probation with conditions that he spend a year in the St. Louis County Jail or Northeast Regional Corrections Center, undergo a chemical dependency assessment and follow all recommendations and aftercare, complete a mental health assessment, not use or possess alcohol or any mood-altering drug -- unless prescribed by a physician, not enter a bar or liquor establishment, be subject to random testing for drug and alcohol use, and pay restitution to his victim.
Before being sentenced, Buehlman apologized to his victim.
"I just want to say that I feel horrible about what I did," he said. "I pray every day that God would take her pain and give it to me and that she could walk again. ... I will make sure that I never, ever hurt anybody again."
Prosecutor Smith told the court that anything less than a prison sentence wasn't sufficient for the victim because the punishment wouldn't compare to the damage the defendant had done to Diehl and her family. She pointed out that Buehlman had 19 traffic violations since 2002 and that he admitted to seeing nothing wrong with using marijuana on a daily basis.
Smith said she wasn't putting the onus on the sentencing court. The law and sentencing guidelines would have to be changed at the legislative level, she said.
Diehl said that because of the person she is she will not let bitterness consume her.
"The whole thing basically in my opinion is between him and God, not between him and me," she said. "I can move on knowing that I did everything I was supposed to do as a pedestrian. I followed all the rules and as a driver, he did not and he will have to live with that."