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Gunderson sentenced to 15 years in death of Kadyn Halverson

This news story was published on January 27, 2012.
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Tim Engstrom, Albert Lea Tribune, Minn. –

NORTHWOOD, Iowa — The man charged with the fatal hit-and-run of a young girl boarding a school bus last May has been sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution, $100,00 of which has already been paid.

Aaron Dwayne Gunderson, 32, of Northwood will be eligible for parole in seven years. He pleaded guilty Jan. 6 in Worth County District Court to a felony count of vehicular homicide involving reckless driving and a felony count of leaving the scene of a crash resulting in the death of 7-year-old Kadyn Jade Halverson, of rural Kensett.

Calling him “an accident waiting for a place to happen,” Judge Bryan McKinley sentenced Gunderson to 10 years for the first felony and five for the second. The judge commended both sides for taking appropriate actions and said in 20 years on the bench he has never been so impressed with the behavior in such a tough situation.

“How you have conducted yourself has been exemplary,” he said. “It makes me proud to be an Iowan.”

Kadyn’s mother, Kari Halverson, sat at the witness stand and read a letter while wiping away tears. She said she will never get to see or hear Kadyn again.

“Because of Aaron’s choices, my daughter is dead,” the mother said.

She said Gunderson — who suffers from an optical impairment and who tested positive for marijuana use in the hours after his arrest — thinks only of himself. She noted how Gunderson told a friend he thought he might have hit a deer.

“A 14-year-old boy got to Kadyn first and carried her lifeless body out of a water-filled ditch,” Halverson said.

She asked for the maximum penalty — the 15 years — allowed under the terms of an agreement struck by the lawyers and families that led to the Jan. 6 guilty plea.

Gunderson was arrested May 10, 2011, by Worth County Sheriff’s Office deputies after striking and killing 7-year-old Kadyn Jade Halverson on Worth County Road S52 as she walked to a stopped school bus in rural Worth County.

Gunderson failed to stop for the flashing lights and extended stop sign of the school bus and struck Kadyn while driving 60 mph before continuing southbound, without stopping at the scene of the crash.

Kadyn was thrown more than 60 feet into the west ditch of the road and died at the scene of the crash.

The investigation found he had more than 3,000 feet to notice the bus and witnesses said he reportedly stopped for a moment, then fled.

He was headed to a place 1 1/2 miles south and west of the scene.

Gunderson’s wife, Danielle, also testified. She said Gunderson is a good father of three children who had an accident. She said he is remorseful for what he did and has taken responsibility.

“He has nightmares all the time, and he never stops thinking about it,” she said.

The mother said she has three 3-year-olds who don’t understand why the father must go away. She said a longer sentence won’t bring Kadyn back but will harm her children.

“I don’t know how I am going to raise three children on my own,” she said, adding “both families lose in this.”

Gunderson, standing next to public defender Letitia Turner, began slowly, noting he had been advised by his lawyer to not speak about his remorse. Fighting tears, he described how he has put himself in the shoes of Kadyn’s family by imagining if it happened to one of his two daughters, but as he began to apologize, his weeping became sobbing.

“I am so deeply sorry to Kadyn’s family,” he said.

He asked for forgiveness and said he wishes he could bring the girl back.

Prosecutor Scott Brown, an assistant Iowa attorney general, read a letter from Kadyn’s father, Matt Kellogg. He described the death of Kadyn as “an accident caused by recklessness, selfishness and ignorance.”

“My whole life and the future I had planned with my daughter changed in an instant,” he said.

Kellogg said he had to quit his job because he couldn’t focus but has since found new employment. He said he is no longer angry but struggles with mixed feelings.

“No amount of time behind bars will fill the void,” Kellogg wrote.

Brown read a letter from grandmother Barb Kellogg.

She said she will never again hear the excitement of her three granddaughters when they would hear that Kadyn had arrived at her house.

“The four of them were like sisters, and now their lives are changed forever,” the grandmother wrote.

She said she hopes Jesus Christ someday will provide a new beginning for her relationship with Kadyn.

Grandmother Ladeena Halverson spoke at the witness stand and said she will miss Kadyn’s toothless grin, her giant hugs, gleeful screams on a roller coaster, the way she would roll her eyes and say, “Grandma!” and show her little brother, Kyler Meyer, now 5, how to do things.

“She didn’t get to walk Kyler to his first day of school as they had planned,” Ladeena Halverson said.

The Arizona resident recounted how she learned of the tragedy over the phone and mentioned how an aunt to Kadyn who lives in Arizona never got to know the child.

“Have you ever seen the size of a child’s casket?” she asked. “They are so incredibly small.”

Brown said Gunderson received “a substantial concession from the state” with a plea agreement that, by dropping another charge, removed 10 years from his sentence. He noted that with parole he could be back with his family in seven years.

He said the sentence agreed to in the plea bargain is “deserved and warranted.”

“He will eventually go back to his family. Kadyn’s family will never get her back,” Brown said.

Judge McKinley commended the Halverson and Kellogg families for showing mercy and “not looking for a pound of flesh.” He called the case “gut-wrenching.”

The judge said he understands the death was accidental but then noted Gunderson’s optical impairment, marijuana use and speeding.

By entering a plea of guilty Gunderson alleviated additional stress and pain from the ordeal of a trial, McKinley said. He called it “a voluntary and intelligent decision on your part.”

Gunderson’s insurance paid $100,000 of the $150,000 restitution cost to Kadyn’s family. He owes $50,000.

McKinley said the extended Gunderson family will have to rely on each other to raise the children while the father is away.

He also ordered Gunderson to pay $889.50 to a fund that benefits crime victims. Gunderson’s public defender asked that he not have to pay the state for legal fees. That ruling will be made in the judge’s written order.

The Worth County Sheriff’s Office on Friday transported Gunderson to Oakdale near Iowa City, where inmates enter the Iowa prison system.



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13 Responses to Gunderson sentenced to 15 years in death of Kadyn Halverson

  1. Avatar

    jane Reply Report comment

    January 29, 2012 at 11:39 am

    The driver fails the eye test so therefore has to go see their eye Dr and they will determine if they should have further treatment or evaluation. I heard that this optometrist will sign a form and wont look into things further, just to Get a patient in and out the door. Also heard this young, local and newer optometrist screws up on a lot of the eye prescriptions too! Like I said, he needs to be investigated. Aaron gunderson would have not even passed his dot exam if it wasn’t for the Dr passing him. Enough said…

  2. Avatar

    Katie Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I think Gunderson should have been sentenced to speak at schools about what happened once he is out. Maybe he can deter some students from taking the path in life that he did and from making the reckless decisions that he did. Right here is evidence that marijuana use causes poor decision making and recklessness. When are people going to wake up and realize that this is one of our society’s biggest problems, along with alcoholism and other drug use? Marijuana use is NOT harmless. In this case, it has led to the death of one person and the emotional destruction of two families.

  3. Avatar

    jane Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 10:56 am

    NEED TO READ!!!!!!
    He said he had vision problems and was basically legally blind. Since he had these issues the optometrist should also be held accountable for giving him a d.o.t. form. that said he was OK to be driving. WHEN THE DR KNEW BETTER TO SIGN HIS FORM.Maybe a little girl would still be alive. Someone needs to check into this.

  4. Avatar

    El Norte Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Nobody is asking the big question so I’ll do it now- how is it possible that Aaron Gunderson had a valid Iowa Driver’s License? Each time a person’s license is renewed they have to pass a vision test. This person clearly could not.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous Reply Report comment

      January 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      Have you ever sat in the DOT they let them retake the vision test a dozen times until they pass it. Evan the ones they don’t they tell them “you can’t drive over 35mph and have to stay in town” how is that safe?

  5. Avatar

    i4freedom Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 9:42 am

    D GERMunderson I cant believe they would let you drive a bus (just kiddning) Hey keep those kids safe and be on the look out for crazy drivers.

  6. Avatar

    Just My Opinion Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 9:14 am

    To “The Real Fred”:

    He had marijuana in his system. Are you so ignorant that you don’t know about marijuana being detectable in a person’s system for several days after using it? Yes, it’s a TRAGEDY that this little girl died. But don’t blame it on marijuana. In all likelihood he wasn’t under the influence when the accident occurred. Read up on it and maybe you’ll learn something. That is, if you can allow your mind to open up.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous Reply Report comment

      January 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      The states investigation showed the amount found in his blood stream showed he had consumed high amounts the morning of.

    • Avatar

      Captain Fred Reply Report comment

      January 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      FOR THE RECORD: The “Real Fred” and myself (“Captain Fred”) are NOT the same person. This fact could EASILY be verified here by N.I.T. But then, the more INTELLIGENT people among the contributors here already realized this fact by the obvious “clues”?

  7. Avatar

    D GERMUNDSON Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 7:49 am


  8. Avatar

    TheRealFred Reply Report comment

    January 28, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Where’s the marijuana crowd?? I thought it was so harmless and should be legalized immediately?

    The only real justice here would be if after 7 years, Gunderson is paroled. And as he walks out the prison doors……….he is run over by a truck and left to die in a ditch.

  9. Avatar

    Captain Fred Reply Report comment

    January 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Yup! By post here is ADMITTEDLY full of “typos”. Got a bit emotional & did not “edit” before I posted…

  10. Avatar

    Captain Fred Reply Report comment

    January 27, 2012 at 10:46 pm


    Vision problems. Marijuana detectible in his system. Exceeding the speed limit. Ignoring the school bus STOP lights. Leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

    GOOD JOB, Assistant “Prosecutor” SCOTT BROWN (of the Iowa Attorney General’s office). You negotiated a “deal” with a MURDERER that wantonly killed an innocent child.

    Records state that he KNEW of his vision problems PRIOR to this MURDER. As a licensed driver, he was required to KNOW prior to this MURDER that he was exceeding the legal speed limit for that road. As a licensed driver, he KNEW that failure to stop for flashing school bus lights is illegal. And as a licensed driver, he was required to know that leaving the scene of an accident (especially a MURDER accident) is illegal.

    So, NICE JOB, Scott Brown, of saving the State of Iowa a few dollars by a accepting a plea bargain from a MURDERER that was WELL-AWARE that he was a “scofflaw” AND/OR “unfit to drive”.

    And Judge Bryan McKinley: Given the alleged actions (made available via news releases) the Defendant WILLINGLY and CONSCIOUSLY made SEVERAL decisions on that fateful day which resulted in the senseless MURDER of an innocent child. I don’t know what else you would call this death (besides a MURDER)! IF the prosecutor had REFUSED to bargain with a person that committed a PRE-MEDITATED MURDER. (Don’t know what else YOU would call it when he decided to drive that day, voluntarily violating laws and common-sense issues.)

    And SO, Honorable Judge Bryan McKinley and Prosecutor Scott Brown: We are ALL eagerly awaiting your explanations as to why this MURDERER got off with little more than a “slap on the wrist”. And NO, compassion toward HIS wife and kids (in MY opinion) should be a moot point here. HIS kids were not MURDERED!!!