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Widow mourns death of husband who died in head-on car crash

Robert McGrath

Dale McDougall will miss his 30th anniversary next month. He'll miss his son's wedding, and the first baby steps his grandchild will take. He was planning a surprise 50th birthday party for his wife when his life ended abruptly.

"Our dreams were torn away by one man's irresponsible actions," said McDougall's widow, Linda.

She and other family members gave tearful statements Monday at the sentencing of Robert Louis McGrath, 50, formerly of Akeley.

McGrath was sentenced on charges of drunken driving and Criminal Vehicular Homicide in the wrong-way accident Jan. 21 that took McDougall's life east of Park Rapids.

McGrath received 58 months and must serve a little over three years before he is eligible for supervised release.

McGrath, who has four prior alcohol-related convictions, was nearly twice the legal blood-alcohol limit when his car crossed the centerline and veered into the path of McDougal's vehicle, striking it head-on at 4 p.m. that day.

Linda McDougall told the court how her son, Tyler, was Dale's best friend. They hunted and fished together, rode motorcycles and lunched together daily.

"They were pretty much inseparable," she said. "They were two peas in a pod."

McDougall's family described a gregarious man who said he could never have enough friends and was a volunteer firefighter for more than two decades. His funeral, on a bitterly cold day that was his daughter's birthday, was attended by people from all over the country, even people who hadn't seen him for 20 years.

They stood out in the cold in a long line to pay their respects, said McDougall's niece, Julie Peterson.

"There are so many things he won't experience," Linda said. "You made a selfish decision to drink and drive," she said to McGrath.

"I know Dale would want me to forgive this man and I will," she told Judge Earl Maus, who began the sentencing more than a half hour late, keeping numerous family members waiting.

Linda said prison wouldn't mend her broken heart, but she wished McGrath would use his time behind bars to "turn his life around and be more like Dale."

"I've got no compassion for this guy, no forgiveness," said McDougall's son-in-law Frank Udovich Jr.

Assistant County Attorney Erika Randall successfully argued that McGrath should first be sentenced on the DWI charge because that would then allow Maus to enhance the homicide sentence. But even though Maus gave McGrath one year on the DWI charge, state law doesn't allow simultaneous convictions to be served consecutively. The one-year term will be served concurrently with the 58-month term.

McGrath was ordered to pay court fees in the amount of $135 on each charge, and to make restitution to the family from his prison earnings. The amount has not been determined yet.

McGrath's attorney, Michael Undem, said his client understood the pain and loss of a loved one. McGrath's mother was murdered in 1995 in Minneapolis and the man sentenced Monday has been feeling pain since, Undem said.

"No doubt Mr. McGrath made a horrible decision," Undem said. "He did not intend to take the life of Dale McDougall."

"I'm very, very sorry for what happened to your father and husband," McGrath said, addressing the family directly. "I can't take it back."

Maus said McGrath also left children behind, although temporarily, while he will be incarcerated. "I'm sure they're extremely disappointed," the judge said.

McGrath's ex-wife, Cynthia McGrath, made several attempts to address the court but was refused. Both attorneys declined to call her as a witness, or to allow her written statement to be admitted into the court record.

"You can lead an exemplary life by never drinking again," Maus said, noting that McGrath had chronic alcohol problems that had not been addressed throughout his life. "The court does believe you're sorry for what happened and that's a start," he added.

Saturday, several family members ran the Fargo marathon in Dale McDougall's memory. It was one of the last things McDougall had done before he died. He registered for the race and wrote out the check for the entry fee. The check and registration were still sitting on his table the day the accident occurred.

"Dale McDougall would want you to go forward," the judge told the family.