Timothy Bakdash of Roseville gets 40 years for fatal Dinkytown hit-run
Posted: 04/16/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
Updated: 04/16/2012 04:07:20 PM CDT
With a judge lamenting that "anyone who knew you knew this day would come," Timothy Bakdash was sentenced to 40 years in prison for last year's booze-fueled hit-and-run death of a University of Minnesota senior.
Bakdash, 30, of Roseville, showed little emotion as a Hennepin County district judge delivered the sentence. The man's defense lawyer said later that Bakdash is on five medications for depression and other maladies, and emotion is hard to come by.
He did, however, apologize to the family of the man he killed, Benjamin Van Handel, the two victims he left alive and their families.
Turning to look square at Van Handel's parents in the front row of the gallery of the courtroom, the former electronics technician said he felt their pain and "there isn't a day I don't think about this."
But moments later, when Judge Daniel Mabley handed down his punishment, he told the defendant that those who had known him knew something like this was bound to happen, an apparent reference to Bakdash's history of substance abuse and failed treatments dating to age 11.
The punishment was more than twice what the defense had asked for, and even eclipsed what prosecutors had argued would be appropriate.
Bakdash will be nearly 57 before he is eligible for supervised probation.
The sentencing came a year and a day after Bakdash had spent the night drinking heavily, climbed in his car and - angered, he said, by a stranger's challenge to fight - sped his car down a
sidewalk and struck two women and then Van Handel, 23, of Appleton, Wis. Van Handel, who was a month away from graduating with an economics degree and aspired to be a major league baseball statistician, was walking a neighbor home from a bar. The women recovered. Van Handel suffered severe brain damage and died April 21.
Last month, a jury found Bakdash guilty of second-degree murder, two counts of attempted second-degree murder and six lesser counts.
Mabley told Bakdash he must serve a sentence of 25 years and five months for Van Handel's death. That sentence will be in addition to two concurrent sentences of 14 years and 5 months for injuring Sarah Anne Bagley and Katelynn Marie Hanson, two University of Minnesota seniors who were walking home from a bar.
Under the state's sentencing guidelines, Bakdash won't be sentenced on the lesser counts.
The sentencing came after Van Handel's mother, father and only sister read sometimes-tearful letters to the judge and gave Mabley a book with statements and photos they said told the story of the life of their son and brother.
Mother Ann Van Handel kept her composure until about midway through her statement. Before that point, she had even managed a bit of a laugh, telling
The family of Ben Van Handel, who was killed by driver Timothy Bakdash, including Ben's sister Rachel, 21, far left, his mother Ann and father Steve are surrounded by supporters as they speak to the media following the sentencing of Bakdash in Hennepin County Court on April 16, 2012. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)
But her words came through tears when she told the judge what she would miss doing because of her son's death. "I won't get to hold his children," she said, asking for the "strictest sentence possible."
His sister, Rachel, noted how she and her brother were polar opposites on many things but that she, too, would miss much.
"I'll never get to be a bridesmaid at his wedding. I'll never get to be the aunt who spoils his kids silly," she said. She asked for a "harsh" sentence for her brother's killer, saying, "In my opinion, there's no excuse for his actions."
Father Steve Van Handel spoke last, telling Mabley that his son was "my right-hand man" and that after his death, he came to learn how highly others regarded his son.
"People were better off for knowing Ben," he said.
At his trial, Bakdash testified that he had spent from 10:30 p.m. April 14 to 1:50 am. April 15 drinking with a friend at the Library Bar, a Dinkytown nightspot. By his own estimate, he had at least - and he said it could've been more - 15 mixed drinks and three shots Jagermeister, a 70-proof liqueur, between 10:30 p.m. and 1:50 a.m.
He said that as he and his friend walked to his car, a stranger approached and challenged him to fight, slapping him on both cheeks before walking away.
After he got into his car, Bakdash thought he saw the man walking down the sidewalk along SE 5th Street. He pulled out of a parking lot and turned the wrong way down the one-way street.
He said he came up with the idea to scare the guy by driving towards him. He slowed to roll over the curb, pointed his car for the sidewalk, straightened it and then hit the accelerator.
At trial, the man, Aron Epperson, testified that he never spoke to Bakdash and never slapped him.
The 2004 Mitsubishi Galant sped down the sidewalk, first hitting Bagley and scooping her up on the hood. She tumbled off. The car then knocked down Hanson.
Van Handel was further down the sidewalk, escorting neighbor Leslie Falk home. She told jurors she heard the car and turned around and saw it. Just as she yelled a warning to Van Handel and reached to grab his arm and pull him out of its path, the car hit him and carried him away.
Bakdash didn't stop. He went home and was at work in Burnsville six hours later.
He was arrested the following week.
Bakdash had a long history of substance abuse and failed treatments. In a deposition in a civil suit filed by Bagley, Bakdash's mother said that after her son emerged from treatment for cocaine addiction, he studied ways to increase his tolerance to alcohol so he could drink more heavily.
Bakdash was originally charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. His defense was that he was too intoxicated to form the intent and premeditation needed to convict him on those counts.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Christina Warren told Mabley that she believed a sentence of 38 years and seven months was appropriate. "The defendants actions were intentional. They were based on anger, fueled by alcohol."
Bakdash's attorney, Joseph Tamburino, also argued that Bakdash lacked intent to kill anyone because his only aim was to frighten Epperson.
Jurors decided there was no premeditation and found Bakdash guilty of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder. They also convicted him of felony murder in the second degree, criminal vehicular homicide, assault and criminal vehicular operation.
Before his client was sentenced, Tamburino told Mabley that Bakdash was "extremely remorseful" and still denied he intended to kill anyone.
He asked for a sentence of 18 years and nine months.
When he got his chance to speak, Bakdash spoke in a clear, plain voice. At times, he turned and looked at Van Handel's family directly.
"I want to apologize first of all to Mr. Van Handel's family for putting them through this painful experience," he said. He went on to say there were times his melancholy over what he'd done was so deep that "I wanted to kill myself."
"I feel their pain daily. There isn't a day I don't think about this," he said.
Afterwards, Tamburino said his client's courtroom apology was "totally genuine" and discounted the man's lack of apparent emotion.
"What the public is seeing is a guy who's been in custody, who's under a ton of meds," he said. Bakdash was currently on five medications, he said, and there had been testimony about some of them at the trial.
After sentencing, the victim's father was asked if he thought the sentence amounted to justice.
"I'm glad he's going to have to spend significant time in prison, but 'justice' is a word out there that I'm going to have to come to terms with," he said.
The victim's sister, Rachel Van Handel, is a religion and sociology major at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and she said her faith has given her comfort and strength.
"I think I can forgive him," she said of her brother's killer. "I don't want to spend my life being remorseful. I don't want him to take my happiness. He's already taken my brother,