SPRING VALLEY, Wis. - Brody Sotona's coworkers are remembering him as a hard worker whose humor cut through the most stressful of situations.
The 20-year-old native of Spring Valley, Wis. was killed early Monday morning when his car was struck by a suspected drunk driver being pursued by a Minnesota state trooper.
Sotona worked the past three years as a pizza chef at Vino in the Valley south of Spring Valley.
"It's just tragic what happened last night, I still can't believe it," said Larry Brenner, owner of Vino in the Valley. Brenner said Sotona was a hard worker who remained focused on whatever task was at hand. "Twenty-four hours ago right now he was right here," said Brenner, pointing to the pizza ovens.
Sotona, who moved to Minneapolis for school, had returned from his work shift Sunday night when he was struck by a car driven by a suspected drunk driver at the intersection of Central Avenue and 4th Street SE in downtown Minneapolis. The crash happened just before 1 a.m. Sotona was killed on impact. A passenger in his car, 24-year-old Connor Macklin of Stillwater, is in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center.
The 34-year-old suspect had been pulled over for speeding and suspected drunk driving, but then took off again with the officer in pursuit before crashing into Sotona's vehicle. The suspect suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Sotona's friends got the news Monday morning. "He was just always joking around; anything he could do to make you smile," said Shawn Frantrop who baked pizzas with Sotona at Vino in the Valley and considered him one of his best friends.
Julie Karlstad, the general manager at Vino said, "He was a great friend and a great employee. I can't say enough about him. He would do anything for you."
Sartona was prom king at Spring Valley High School, played football and golf while a student, and was known for his love of music.
David Wellington, superintendent of Spring Valley schools called Sotona "a really special kid. Reminiscing with other people today, that was a phrase that came out more than once."
Monday afternoon Sotona's family released a short statement to the media. It reads:
"Brody was a fun, loving, 20-year-old who enjoyed life to the fullest. Brody had a passion for music and his band 'Crush.' He loved to have a good time with friends and family and will be missed tremendously by them."
Then, the statement takes a turn, directly challenging the sequence of decisions made by the Minnesota State Trooper who pursued the suspect.
"The family would like to know why the Minnesota State Trooper pursued the suspect into a high speed chase in DOWNTOWN Minneapolis at 1 o'clock in the morning when it is quite clear that they already had the suspects license plate and likely the name and address. If they would not have pushed him our Son and brother would still be alive today."
Deciding when to chase a suspect, and when to call off a chase is something that all law enforcement agencies wrestle with.
Most have detailed policies drawn up to strike a balance between apprehending a suspect who may be a danger to the community, and the additional risks posed to citizens by engaging in a pursuit.
"The trooper made numerous attempts to try to end this safely, despite the obvious intention of the suspect of not doing what would make sense and the safe thing for everyone and just stopping," said State Patrol Spokesman Eric Roeske during a media briefing.
"You have a suspected drunk driver. Drunk drivers kill over a hundred people a year. Do you just let him go?" Roeske continued. "Do you try to stop him? Obviously, in hindsight, you can come up with a lot of answers but in the very short window, that this trooper's trying to evaluate that, it's a little more difficult when you're in the driver's seat."
The trooper involved in the chase is on paid leave, standard policy for the State Patrol when someone is involved in a "critical incident" where someone is killed. Investigators will be looking at how things unfolded.
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