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17-year-old Moorhead boy gets 3.5 months in work camp for fatal crash

Jamie Olson, center, stands with family and friends Monday while planting a tree for her son, Austin Wagar, who died following a car crash last summer. Logan Werlinger / The Forum

MOORHEAD – Jamie Olson spoke loud and clear over the weeping teenagers assembled in a Clay County courtroom Monday as she told the standing-room- only crowd about the day her 17-year-old son died.

On the August day last year, Olson took her son, Austin Wagar, shopping for a car of his own. She didn’t buy the one they liked, thinking his stepfather should check it out first.

“I wish I would have bought it on the spot – so Austin would be here today,” said Olson, with a break in her voice.

Olson was one of five family members who spoke in court Monday as Kullen Carney, the 17-year-old who was behind the wheel in the fatal crash, was sentenced in Clay County District Court on one felony count of criminal vehicular homicide.

The Moorhead teenager was sentenced to three and a half months in a juvenile work camp after pleading guilty in the Aug. 9 crash that killed Wagar, his fellow Moorhead High School classmate. A third student, Brendan Daly, 17, was also hurt in the crash.

Carney was driving a Buick Century on 80th Avenue west of Sabin when another vehicle pulled out in front of him and he lost control. The car flipped on to its roof and caught fire.

Authorities said he was driving 88 mph in a 55 mph zone, and speed was likely a factor in the crash. Driver inattention may have been a contributing factor, investigators said in the complaint filed in October. Investigators said alcohol wasn’t a factor in the crash, but Carney tested positive for THC, a component found in marijuana.

Carney sat between his mother and his defense attorney as the statements came one after another from Wagar’s family members, including his younger sister, Krystin Lightfoot, who could at times not be understood through her sobs.

“When I get married, and even when I get my driver’s license, it hurts to think he won’t be there to see,” said Lightfoot, as her father and Austin’s, Keith Wagar, kept an arm on her shoulders.

“No graduations, no grandchildren,” the father said. “With the loss of my son, also did the Wagar name die. I want you to think about that, how your actions can change the world.”

Carney pleaded guilty in May as part of a plea deal that gives him a stayed imposition of his adult sentence of four years in prison, meaning the adult sentence isn’t imposed as long as he fulfills the terms of his juvenile sentence.

“Words cannot explain how sorry I am for your loss,” Carney said in court. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

Judge Steven Cahill sentenced Carney to supervised probation, which will expire when he turns 21. He was also ordered to participate in a victim impact panel and the Alive at 25 safe driving program, perform 100 hours of community service and surrender his driver’s license.

Cahill said Carney would be eligible to seek his driver’s license when he turns 18, which is Nov. 29 of this year. Family members had asked the judge during their statements to the court to withhold Carney’s right to drive until he turns 21.

Among them was Olson, who told the court she was one of the people who drove to the scene of the crash, which happened about a mile and a half from her home. She recalled that at first she could not find her son at the scene, because Wagar was taken by helicopter to Fargo’s Sanford Medical Center.

“No one would say anything to me – I felt like I was in a dream, but it was the beginning of a nightmare,” Olson said.

Wagar died at the hospital the following day from head injuries.

Carney must also pay restitution to Wagar’s family, though the amount is not yet determined. Olson said that she plans to use the restitution as part of a nonprofit for children who share her son’s interests, such as music and soccer.

Family members were also unhappy Cahill was 40 minutes late for the hearing.

“With how upsetting this is to us, it seemed a little disrespectful,” said Wagar’s aunt, Rochelle Metzger.

Cahill apologized in court, saying he had scheduled his vacation for the time of the hearing and forgot to write it on his calendar.

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