As family and friends of Matthew Charles Stuart sat in the front row of the Isanti County Courthouse on March 20, it was as if they were reliving the death of their son, grandson, brother, uncle, nephew and friend all over again.
The images from the accident scene were displayed on a projector in front of the courtroom. Photographs of Stuart were also later projected that included pictures of him as a baby, in a little red wagon, at holidays, graduations, next to airplanes, on the lake, in the woods, with his family and friends and more.
Stuart, 36, of Isanti, was killed Oct. 2, 2012, just miles from his home when Joseph Robert Bollin Jr., 46, of Princeton, crossed the center line of Highway 47 near Bradford Township and struck Stuart head-on.
Bollin was driving a 1996 Mercury Sable, towing a two-wheeled car dolly with a Ford F-150 pick-up truck attached to it, heading northbound. Stuart, who was travelling southbound on a Kawasaki motorcycle and wearing a protective motorcycle jacket and helmet, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Bollin was charged Oct. 4, 2012, with felony criminal vehicular homicide—operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance—causing Stuart’s death. Bollin pled guilty to the charge Dec. 18.
Assistant Isanti County Attorney David Kraemer explained Stuart’s body was found 114 feet north of the point of impact. Bollin’s car stopped 500 feet from the point of impact, with the motorcycle pinned underneath it.
He explained a Mercury Sable was not created to tow a Ford pick-up, and because brakes were not connected to the trailer, the Sable was responsible for stopping the Sable as well as the Ford pick-up.
“On Oct. 2, the temperature was 49 degrees, clear skies and it was a beautiful fall day in Minnesota,” Kraemer said. “Mr. Stuart had just had dinner with his friends and was traveling back home. Around 9:55 p.m., in the area of Highway 47 and 313th Avenue, one mile north of Bradford, Mr. Bollin crosses the center line and begins to travel northbound in the southbound lane. Mr. Bollin hits Mr. Stuart head-on in the dead center of the southbound lane. Mr. Stuart’s final resting place was in a ditch on the side of the road.”
Isanti County Judge James Dehn sentenced Bollin March 20 to 81 months to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, the maximum sentence allowable under state sentencing guidelines. Bollin will serve 54 months in prison before being released on supervised probation and will receive credit for time served since Oct. 2, 2012.
“This is the toughest part of my job and I’ve been on the bench for 26 years, and it never gets easier,” Dehn said prior to sentencing. “When I read through all the victim impact statements, I wish I could have known Matt; it seems like he was an incredible person. No grandparent or parent should have to bury their child. It’s not meant to be that way, and I really feel for you.
“Joseph, the way you pay tribute to Matt’s life and Matt’s family is to take advantage of every chemical dependency program made available to you while in prison. You have an obligation to yourself, Mr. Stuart’s family and your own family to take advantage of everything you can while in prison. Your family and friends sitting behind you in this courtroom are as important to your sobriety as you are, and also to public safety … I wish I would never have gotten to know Mr. Stuart because that would mean he’d still be alive today,” Dehn added.
Kraemer said it was hard explaining state sentencing guidelines to Stuart’s family.
“When I showed the chart to Mr. Stuart’s sister, Valerie Macintire, she saw the guidelines that called for Mr. Bollin to be sentenced to 58 to 81, and she asked if that meant years. I had to explain to her that 58 to 81 meant months. She couldn’t believe her brother’s life was only worth five to seven years. And then I had to explain to her that Mr. Bollin will only serve two-thirds of his sentence in prison. I’ve been doing this 11 years and you can’t imagine what’s it’s like to tell a victim’s family that their loved one’s life is only worth three to five years. I would love for someone to tell me how that makes sense.”
Bollin was convicted of felony drug possession in Anoka County in 2004 and Kanabec County in 2005. He was charged with felony drug possession in Isanti County in July 2012. Kraemer noted Bollin appeared in Isanti County Court on Sept. 17, 2012, for violating his probation that ordered him to not use or possess alcohol or drugs.
“Fifteen days later, after appearing in court for that probation violation, Mr. Bollin’s continued use of methamphetamine killed Matthew Charles Stuart,” Kraemer said. “And while he was in jail facing charges, he admitted to probation agent Kari Ohman that he used meth two days prior to the crash, and ingested meth a couple hours prior to the crash. Mr. Bollin admitted to using meth two to three days per week for the last 25 years. Mr. Bollin has a long, long history of meth use and disobeying court orders.”
Kraemer noted the night of the crash, a blood test revealed Bollin had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system. He explained the criminal vehicular homicide charge was the sixth felony charge lodged against Bollin.
“Matthew Stuart is a perfectly innocent person who did nothing wrong,” Kraemer said. “All the medical examiner found in Mr. Stuart’s system the night of the crash was caffeine; he didn’t even have a glass of wine with his dinner. He was almost home. Mr. Bollin has been making choices his entire life … And the night of Oct. 2, he chose to get in his car and ingest meth. … This is a terrible tragedy that didn’t have to happen.”
Kraemer noted Stuart’s sister, Valerie Macintire, learned she was pregnant shortly after her brother’s death.
“Mr. Stuart will have a nephew coming into this world, who will be named after him, and this boy will never know his uncle,” Kraemer said. “These are wonderful people and didn’t deserve this.”
Bollin’s public defender says client is remorseful
Public defender, Kelli Jasper, said Bollin is remorseful.
“The last several days and months, I’ve thought long and hard about what to say today and how to say it … without minimizing the loss of these good people,” Jasper said. “Your honor, nothing I say today is meant to minimize the loss and grief Mr. Stuart’s family is going through. As a young person, I lost someone close to me in a similar motorcycle accident.”
Jasper reminded Dehn that sentencing is a legal judgement, not an emotional judgement.
“On the night of the crash, Mr. Bollin called 911 and told them he had hit someone,” Jasper said. “When the operators asked Bollin if the person was conscious, Bollin told them he wasn’t. He knew he hit someone, but despite that, it’s very telling he called 911 and stayed there and waited for police. He knew what his fate would be after the accident and knew he was going to prison, but he stayed, and did the best the he could do—he called 911 and waited for police. As Mr. Bollin sat in custody, he was horribly grief stricken.”
Jasper said Bollin gave her permission to address the court regarding private conversations she had with him.
“The first time I sat with Mr. Bollin, I just sat with him and cried with him for over an hour,” Jasper said. “He truly was crying for the loss of Mr. Stuart. I’ve know Mr. Bollin a long time. Mr. Bollin is more than his criminal history. He’s a husband, son, friend and his family is also feeling loss and grief. From day one, Mr. Bollin has expressed to me his immense sadness, grief and sorrow for the loss of Mr. Stuart.”
Jasper explained Bollin waived all his rights during court proceedings to move the court process along as quickly as possible.
“During my first conversation with Mr. Bollin, I had to tell him he couldn’t plead guilty on the first day,” Jasper said. “He deserved to have someone look over his case for him. He felt he had to take responsibility for what he did, and he did everything he could to make the court process go as quickly as possible.”
Even though Bollin didn’t address the court, Jasper said he’s remorseful.
“Mr. Bollin isn’t sitting in this courtroom today crying for himself; he’s not feeling sorry for himself,” Jasper said. “Mr. Bollin has never denied he’s had a problem with chemical dependency, but he felt he had it under control. He dealt with own addictions and demons the best he could.”
More than 20 family members and friends of Matthew Charles Stuart submitted victim impact statements at sentencing regarding the loss of Stuart. Here is a look at a few of them.
“The impact this crime has had on our family is immeasurable. Losing Matthew has impacted his family physically, emotionally and financially. It has tested our faith, our relationships, our strength and our health. When someone tells you that ‘losing a child’ is the worst loss one can bear, let me tell you, it is so very true.”
Linda L. Stuart, mother
“In the world of today, Matthew was a very rare person. He was intelligent, had a great deal of common sense, was considerate, compassionate, hard working with a good work ethic, a very warm, outgoing person with an infectious smile and well liked by all who knew him. All of the family gatherings, the graduations, weddings, and other social events will feel hollow and greatly amiss without Matthew’s infectious smile.”
Jeffrey T. Stuart, father
“I miss him so much and in more ways than I ever thought possible. I never realized all the little things in life that remind me of him, and how often my thoughts go to him. Someone once said that I will grieve him in a million different ways and lose him a million different times, and he was right. Every day I have to live without him, I have to lose him again. And every moment he isn’t with me, I grieve for him in a million different ways.”
Valerie Macintire, sister
“Today and forever my heart aches in mourning the loss of my brother, playmate and pillar in our family. Matt was a proud man and a good heart. A gentle soul with an amazingly witty humor.”
Kate Hau, step-sister
“To start off, I would like to say that Uncle Matt was a very good man. To me it was like never ending love for him. Whenever he came over, my heart bounced with joy. Everything about him made me happy. His voice was the one I enjoyed most. Just to hear him, made me think, I am lucky to have him. Just to know that he was always there with me made me feel that I wasn’t alone. I loved the way he laughed. He would always brighten me up with his jokes. Knowing that he was there with me made me feel as if I were the happiest person alive.”
Mae H. Yang, 10-year-old niece
“Matthew was our oldest grandson. He was very close to us and called us at least once a week just to say ‘hello’ and see how we were. He never missed sending us a ‘thank you,’ whether it was for a greeting card, phone message, a gift or letter.”
James C. Robinson and Elizabeth Robinson, grandparents
“Matt was an incredible person and I miss his existence each and every day. Matt was the type of person that would reach out to a stranger to help them. He was the best of listeners, was inquisitive, a quick learner and had a high degree of integrity. Matt was optimistic, cordial, conscientious, trustworthy and genuine.”
Thomas A. Baird Jr., best friend
“Matt was a very loving, giving son, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle and friend. He was a person who was always there to help others, was honest and was caring. He was a kind spirit, happy spirit and made each person’s life he touched a little better each day.”
Steve and Joan Zeug, friends