MANKATO — Before he was ordered to spend at least three years in prison for killing a Wells woman while driving under the influence of drugs, an Elmore man said he was “terribly sorry.”
Michael Ray Johnson, 63, was sentenced Monday in Faribault County District Court in connection with a December afternoon crash that killed Patricia Bathke.
Johnson drove northbound in the southbound lane of Highway 22 south of Minnesota Lake and struck a car head-on. Patricia Bathke, 67, died and her husband, James Bathke, 69, was injured.
Johnson appeared to be under the influence of drugs and methamphetamine was found in his car, according to the court complaint.
He pleaded guilty to felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide, criminal vehicular operation and a drug charge in April.
In a letter to the judge written last week, Johnson apologized and pleaded for leniency because his girlfriend has cancer.
“I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused to Mr. Jim and the Bathke family. What a tragedy,” he wrote. “Why was my life spared and why at such a cost? Only God knows.”
Johnson made more apologies before he was sentenced Monday.
“I hope and pray one day they can forgive me and find peace in the Lord,” he said of the Bathke family. “I plan to do all I can to keep Miss Patricia’s spirit alive.”
Patricia was a retired postal worker, mother and grandmother, according to her obituary.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mom and how her life was stolen from her,” son Jacob Bathke said at Monday’s hearing.
“My mom was an absolute selfless person in every aspect of her life,” daughter Jessica Mortenson said.
Judge Troy Timmerman sentenced Johnson to 57 months in prison, which is the maximum recommended under state guidelines.
In Minnesota the final third of prison sentences are typically served on parole. Johnson also received credit for six months already spent in jail. So he likely will spend around 2.5 years in the St. Cloud prison.
Patricia’s children had asked Timmerman to impose the maximum allowed sentence, which would have been 10 years (with nearly seven of those years behind bars).
“There’s no such thing as a good enough sentence in my mind for what happened,” Jacob said.
“I’m afraid that when he gets out he will do the exact same thing to another family,” Mortenson said. “And I couldn’t bear them to have to deal with the same agony that we have had to and will continue to forever experience.”