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Thanks to a Minnesota family’s forgiveness, a truck driver who triggered a distracted driving crash in Nebraska that killed five of their family members will serve just a few months in jail.

Tony Weekly Jr., 55, of Baker, Fla., was sentenced in Keith County District Court on Friday to six months in jail and two years’ probation for the crash nearly two years ago in an Interstate 80 construction zone near Brule in western Nebraska.

With credit for 30 days he’s already spent in jail, Weekly will serve five months behind bars starting Aug. 3.

On July 31, 2016, Weekly smashed his semitrailer truck into the back of the Pals family’s minivan while on his hands-free phone and reaching for a drink, according to prosecutors.

Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, died in the five-vehicle pileup, along with their children: Ezra, 3; Violet, 23 months; and Calvin, 2 months. The family was about to move to Japan to work as Christian missionaries and were heading to Colorado for a final training session. The crash also killed another motorist.

Weekly pleaded no contest to three felony and four misdemeanor counts.

Prosecutors had sought a much tougher sentence. But Cedrick Pals, Jamison’s father, spoke during Friday’s sentencing and asked Judge Richard Birch to show mercy for Weekly.

“I struggle to find the words that describe the grief that gripped me,” said Pals, who lives in Hugo, reading from his statement. “I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you?”

Pals said there are three words that come to mind: “Forgiveness. Mercy. Hope.”

Weekly wept during his own statement in court, the Omaha World Herald reported, saying there are some days when “I can’t go to work.”

After sentencing, Pals and Weekly met outside the courtroom and embraced.

Signs of forgiveness from Jamison Pals’ parents were evident within days of the crash. His mother, Kathy, said that she was saddened to hear that Weekly had been charged, saying that it would be hard enough for him to live with he had done.

Didn’t slow down

Witnesses said that Weekly’s semi was speeding in the construction zone and didn’t slow down before impact, according to the charges. The force pushed the family’s van into three other westbound vehicles. Both the van and the truck burst into flames. Besides the Pals family, 56-year-old Terry Sullivan, of Denver, was in another vehicle caught up in the mayhem and died days later.

The Palses met at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, an evangelical Christian college in Roseville. In the months before the crash, they had sold most of their belongings in preparation for the move to Japan, which was expected to happen in late October. They moved out of their Minneapolis home and in with Kathryne’s parents in Wayzata, where she grew up.

They were given the assignment by Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

The young family had been planning the move for a couple of years and made multiple treks to Littleton, Colo., for training with WorldVenture, a Christian mission agency. They tracked their preparations on a blog called joyofjapan.org, where they wrote expansively about their faith and family.

Jamison Pals graduated from Centennial High School in Circle Pines, then Northwestern and received a master’s from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. He worked as a grant writer for Feed My Starving Children in Eagan,

Kathryne Pals graduated from West Lutheran High School in Plymouth before getting her degree at Northwestern. She intended to teach English to preschoolers in Japan.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482