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March 6, 2013

Pain, remorse expressed in criminal sentencing

Man sentenced to 10 months in jail for fatal crash

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

MOUNT CLEMENS —The criminal sentencing of the man who caused a fatal car crash turned into a heartbreaking scene Feb. 28 inside a Macomb County circuit courtroom.

Ultimately, after many tears and words of sorrow and sadness, Judge Mary Chrzanowski sentenced Ronald Lee Haggen, a 67-year-old retired auto worker from Detroit, to 10 months in jail and five years probation for a charge of vehicular manslaughter. His driver’s license also was revoked.

The judge said these types of cases were the hardest part of her job. She asked to see a picture of Ryan Roberts, 22, of Fraser, and told his surviving family members that she would pray they find peace.

“I can tell you, whatever I do to the defendant isn’t going to make the pain go away,” she told them. “Whatever I give him isn’t going to give you peace.”

Twins Ryan and Drew Roberts were sitting at a red light at 15 Mile and Hayes, on their way to a midnight movie opening, when their car was rear-ended.

Haggen was reportedly traveling about 80 miles per hour when he struck the twins’ car. The 67-year-old reportedly suffered a diabetic episode that caused him to lose consciousness.

Investigators found Haggen’s blood sugar level at the scene was low. His blood-alcohol content was determined to be under the legal .08 level, which though legal, left the question as to whether the alcohol had triggered the diabetic attack.

The felony charge pertained to the standard that Haggen had been negligent in managing his diabetes.

He does not recall where he was in the few hours between his dinner and the accident, said defense attorney Warren Harris.

“Two blocks from our house. That’s where it happened,” Ryan’s father, Barry Roberts, said during the sentencing. “I haven’t been by that site in seven months. I go miles out of my way.”

Roberts said that the Fraser community has been supportive since the accident.

He also described Ryan as a leader and an exemplary student and athlete. Both twins are alumni of Fraser High School and Central Michigan University, having graduated from the latter in May 2012.

Speaking to Haggen for the first time, Barry Roberts tearfully said he could never forgive him. He said the accident had changed his family members’ lives forever.

“People tell me I’m strong. I’m not strong. I cry every day by myself,” he said.

During the sentencing, Chrzanowski made a rare move by stepping down from the bench and walking into the galley to speak to the person she said she was most concerned about: his twin brother Drew.

“You have to live your life and know this isn’t your fault. You can’t allow this to eat at you,” the judge told him. “Can you promise me that?”

“I’ll try,” Drew responded.

Haggen, emotional almost beyond words, expressed his wish that he could undo what happened.

“I couldn’t help it,” he said, addressing the roughly 20 family members of the victim who were seated in the galley. “I’m so, so, so sorry. I’m a good man.”

Harris described Haggen as an exemplary citizen, who had never gotten so much as a traffic ticket before the tragic incident. Harris, a defense attorney and former police officer, said this was an unusual case in that, typically, defendants are facing charges because they did something wrong, which wasn’t the case here.

“This is eating him up inside,” Harris said.

On Jan. 22, Haggen pleaded no contest to the felony charge of committing manslaughter with a motor vehicle. A no-contest plea, while not an admission of guilt, is treated as such for sentencing purposes.

The defendant’s wife, Jacqueline Haggen, also expressed her sorrow for the family.

Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor Steve Fox said no plea deals were offered.

“Frankly, no amount of punishment would really be justice, but I’m happy for the family’s sake that he is going to face a term of incarceration,” Fox said.

Barry Roberts said after the sentencing that his family now had to begin the next chapter of their lives — one without Ryan.

“It’s hard, it’s hard,” he said. “He was a good kid — a good son. It’s a shame.”

Looking ahead, he said he would work with state legislators to get Michigan to enact laws adding provisions on diabetic drivers.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.