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'It haunts me every night': Mother spared prison in Cloquet crash that killed son

An emotionally charged sentencing hearing ended with a judge placing the 27-year-old Brainerd woman on probation and requiring that she share her story with others in the community.

wood gavel with American flag in background
Getty Images
Getty Images

CARLTON — Misty Louise Mattinas was highly intoxicated, traveling more than twice the speed limit and distracted by the GPS on her phone when she veered off the road and struck a tree that split her car in half in November 2020 in Cloquet.

As a result, the Brainerd woman will forever live with the fact that she was responsible for the death of her own 3-year-old son, Dennis Solis.

A year later, Mattinas now watches her other child, Mia, play alone without her best friend at her side. The 27-year-old told a judge she still gets nightmares, cold sweats and anxiety most nights. And having recently learned that she's pregnant with a child due in July, Mattinas said she feels "shameful."

"I don't feel like I deserve another baby," she told Judge Rebekka Stumme on Thursday.

Mattinas has a powerful story, Stumme said, and a key part of her sentence will involve sharing it with fellow impaired driving offenders, treatment groups and area schools.

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(MATTINAS, MISTY LOUISE - #CA2000753).jpg
Misty Louise Mattinas

The judge granted Mattinas a departure from state sentencing guidelines, staying a 57-month prison term in favor of seven years of supervised probation after her plea in October to a felony count of criminal vehicular homicide.

While imposing six months of staggered jail time, Stumme said it was apparent Mattinas has shown remorse, received significant family support and is already well on the path to recovery, having maintained sobriety for more than a year since the fatal crash.

"Whether it was 'egregiously criminal,' as the state put it, or a combination of a bunch of bad decisions, I have to ask, 'What is the purpose in sending you to prison right now?'" the judge told her. "And I just can't find that purpose."

Mattinas hurried to hug her family in the courtroom gallery immediately following the emotionally charged hearing that spanned more than an hour. Both her mother and stepfather had spoken in support of her during the proceeding.

"I lost a grandson," Brian Matrious said. "For the last four months of his life, he was with my every day. That little fella was my whole world. But I'm trying to keep that kid (Mattinas) alive. She needs to be in our home. She needs to take care of her daughter."

PREVIOUSLY: Charges: Mother drinking, looking at GPS before Cloquet crash that killed 3-year-old
Mattinas was traveling approximately 68-73 mph in a 30 mph zone on White Pine Trail, near Spring Lake Road, when the crash occurred on Nov. 10, 2020, according to an accident reconstruction.

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Police found Mattinas holding her deceased son, Dennis, while Mia was also injured. Officers noted a "strong odor of alcohol" and the defendant admitted to having several drinks before and during her drive from her mother's residence in Brainerd.

A sample taken from Mattinas about three hours after the crash revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.125, well above the state's legal limit of 0.08. She also was operating with a revoked driver's license.

Noting the multitude of illegal actions that ultimately led to the boy's death, assistant Carlton County prosecutor Alexander Saumer urged the court to impose the guideline prison term of four years.

"This case is about the aggregate effect of multiple criminal decisions that merged at the same point in time," Saumer said, while noting he could "respect and honor whatever decision the court makes."

Public defender Elizabeth Polling said her client endured a traumatic upbringing and a life marked by violence and tragedy, including the 2009 death of her 17-year-old sister as the victim of an impaired driving crash.

But she said Mattinas and her daughter have been welcomed into the home of her mother and stepfather. And the defendant is hoping to soon finish up an associate degree in health sciences at Central Lakes College, with the ultimate goal of working in nursing.

Mattinas has been free on pretrial release since days after her arrest, undergoing treatment and maintaining sobriety.

Mia Solis, from left, 6, Salina Mattinas and Misty Mattinas sing during a gathering remembering lost relatives on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune free

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"This is a family that sticks together," Polling said. "She has accountability and motivation. She knows what she needs to do, and she has demonstrated that every day."

Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer Dawn Ledoux joined in the defense recommendation of probation, saying she had communicated with agents in Crow Wing County to ensure Mattinas would be subject to regular chemical testing and high-intensity programming.

"Sending her to prison would not help the human being she is," Mattinas' mother, Connie Moose, said. "She needs more than therapy. She needs to be able to walk this earth with her daughter."

PREVIOUSLY: Mother guilty in Cloquet crash that killed 3-year-old

Mattinas told the court she has already found therapeutic benefits in sharing her story.

"I live with what I did every day," she said. "It haunts me every night. I have reoccurring nightmares, cold sweats or my anxiety gets me shaky-feeling and my blood pressure rises. My hope is to help others with my story by staying connected to women-support groups, my culture and involving myself with (missing and murdered Indigenous women) events."

Stumme imposed what she described as a "trade off" — granting Mattinas an opportunity to prove herself on probation, but settling on a longer prison sentence that would be executed should she fail to abide by conditions.

Importantly, the judge said she would require Mattinas to serve 200 hours of community service, helping others avoid the same tragic consequences of alcoholism.

"Certain cases will stick with me for the rest of my life, whether I was a prosecutor or defense attorney or judge," Stumme said, "and this is undoubtedly one of those."

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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