An unlicensed motorist admitted Wednesday that he was going at least 85 mph when he ran a red light, collided with another driver in a north Minneapolis intersection late last year and killed him.
Sylvester T. Vaughn, 40, of Minneapolis pleaded guilty in Hennepin County District Court to criminal vehicular homicide-gross negligence in connection with the crash that killed 22-year-old Josiah R. Oakley of Minneapolis on Dec. 11 at N. 42nd and Lyndale avenues.
The plea agreement between the prosecution and the defense calls for Vaughn to receive a four-year sentence, which falls within state sentencing guidelines. With credit for time in jail since his arrest, Vaughn is expected to serve slightly more than 21⁄3 years in prison and the balance on supervised release.
The plea deal also includes dismissal of a criminal vehicular homicide count alleging that he was drunk at the time of the crash. The criminal complaint said that Vaughn's medical records from North Memorial Health, where he was treated for his injuries from the crash, showed that his blood alcohol content soon after the collision was 0.236% — nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 3, when Judge Carolina Lamas will decide whether to accept and impose the terms.
Vaughn was driving at the time despite his license having been revoked. His criminal history in Minnesota includes a conviction in 2019 for drunken driving. In that case, according to court records, he hit another vehicle from behind at a red light in Brooklyn Center. A preliminary breath test at the scene measured his blood alcohol content at 0.19%. A judge set aside a six-month jail sentence and put Vaughn on probation for two years.
The Oakley family learned weeks ago that the prosecution intended to offer Vaughn a four-year sentence. Oakley's mother, Desiree Oakley, wrote on April 21 to the victim advocate assigned to her family by the County Attorney's Office that Vaughn's "reckless and dangerous behavior" robbed her of her only son, and his loved ones wanted the plea offer rescinded.
"We all strongly objected to this plea deal and didn't understand why the Hennepin County Attorney's Office was willing to offer any plea," she wrote. "It is utterly absurd that the fact that he has endangered public safety by driving drunk and previously rear-ending someone [at a] stop light does not matter in this current case. … I feel it is my job as my son's mother, but also a responsible member of the community, to protect the public from Mr. Vaughn."
Nicholas Kimball, spokesman for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, said in a statement, "Our thoughts are with Josiah's family, friends and all who loved him. His loss was a senseless and preventable tragedy that no family should have to experience. They are right that this sentence does not make up for that loss, but it is the sentence the law provides for the crime the defendant committed."
Oakley was a 2019 graduate of Minneapolis Edison High School, where he was on the chess team that won the Minneapolis Public Schools tournament in 2017. He finished second in the individual competition. Oakley also played football for Edison for two seasons, baseball for four seasons and was a member of the band.
According to the complaint against Vaughn:
Around 12:40 a.m., a police officer at Lyndale and 45th avenues spotted Vaughn's Chevy SUV race by and then saw the immediate aftermath of the SUV's collision with Oakley's Pontiac SUV at 42nd Avenue. Emergency responders arrived and declared Oakley dead at the scene. The officer removed the injured Vaughn from his SUV before he was taken to North Memorial.
A State Patrol analysis determined that Vaughn was traveling 85 to 90 miles per hour when he entered the intersection through a red light and hit Oakley's vehicle. The speed limit on that stretch of Lyndale is 30 mph.