Emotional courtroom at sentencing for drunk driver that killed popular Sandstone, Minn. teen

After an exhaustive and emotional day in the courtroom, a drunk driver was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for a crash that killed 17-year-old Colton Nelson in Sandstone, Minn. last February.

Nelson had been the homecoming king and a standout student athlete at East Central High School north of Sandstone. Many of Colton’s family members, friends and classmates showed up to the trial in blue t-shirts with the phrase “East Central Eagles Strong” and Nelson’s basketball number written on them.

The driver, 34-year-old Charles Hendricks of Sandstone, admitted in court that he was an alcoholic. He said he had been struggling through life having lost his mom and dad to a murder-suicide when he was just six years old. His attorney asked the judge for leniency and a simple probation.

“If he could have taken the place of Colton, he would have,” Hendricks’ defense attorney said. “We knew nothing here today would change anything. He was going to accept the sentence whether it was 41 or 48 months.” 

However, prosecutors had asked the judge for the maximum sentence. As part of their argument, they played the agonizing 911 call from the crash scene, which occurred just down the road from the Nelson family farm.
Nelson’s parents were the first to arrive on the scene.

Nelson’s mom, Kayla, is frantic in the call, praying over the wreckage as it takes paramedics 12 minutes to arrive while her son is pinned behind the wheel, not breathing and without a pulse.

The recording had the courtroom in tears, and Nelson’s mom cannot stop listening to it.

“I [listened to] it yesterday,” Kayla Nelson said. “I had it on my phone, stood in the ditch where the accident occurred, therapeutic.  I remember that call.  I drive by that corner. I will never forget.”

With sentencing behind them the Nelson family is now hoping for some peace as they take the next steps in their grieving process.