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In lieu of jail, DUI offenders got option of attending Deutscher family's funeral

FARGO - As part of his punishment for drinking and driving, the Fargo man was given a choice: attend the funeral of a West Fargo family killed by a drunken driver heading the wrong way on Interstate 94 or serve five more days in jail.

He chose the funeral, and the next day he penned a letter to the court describing its effect on him.

"It made me sick to my stomach 4 lives were taken when they had a lifetime they never got," he wrote.

The author, Allan Bakkerud, 55, was among three DUI offenders to whom Fargo Municipal Judge Steve Dawson gave the option of attending the funeral of Aaron and Allison Deutscher and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, in lieu of jail time.

"I think it's useful for people to realize just what kind of tragedy can result from their behavior and how it affects real lives and real families," Dawson said in an interview Thursday. "And I think so often people in the position of drinking and driving just lose sight of that and, of course, always believe that this won't happen to them."

All three defendants chose to attend the July 12 funeral, but Bakkerud was the only one to write a letter to the court. The other two, Shantel Marie Netterville, 26, of Fargo, and Michael G. Hanson, 44, of West Fargo, both submitted proof of attendance.

Dawson said DUI offenders often are sentenced to attend victim impact panels to impress upon them how drinking and driving affects the lives of victims and their families.

"But this was such a horrific event and so recent, that I wanted to use this to kind of convey that message right then and there," he said.

Dawson said it was "a difficult balance" because he didn't want to intrude on the family and wanted to make sure those attending would be respectful. He said he knew there would be community members at the funeral who didn't know the family, so it wouldn't be remarkable for strangers to attend.

The judge said he also considered giving offenders the option of attending the memorial service for Wyatt Klein, 28, of Jamestown, who had a blood alcohol level of 0.25 percent when his pickup crashed into the Deutschers' Subaru, according to the state Highway Patrol.

"Because he too had a life and a family and a mother who loved him and so on and so forth, and of course that is part of trying to deter drunk drivers - that not only is it the innocent person who's affected, but it's the family and friends of the drunk driver as well," Dawson said.

Ultimately, he decided it was impractical because of the distance to the Klein service and its smaller size.

Bakkerud, who declined to comment on Thursday, wrote in his letter that he'd have a hard time living with himself if he took the life of another person or family while drinking and driving.

"That funeral really made me look at how serious this could change so many lives in a split second," he wrote. "Alcohol and driving don't mix."