Authorities sentenced a North Dakota man to 5 years in state prison on Friday after he fatally hit an 18-year-old with his car — following his expression of concern about the teenager’s alleged connection to a “Republican extremist” group.
Shannon Brandt of Glenfield, North Dakota, pled guilty to manslaughter in May after fatally running over Cayler Ellingson with his 2003 Ford Explorer on September 18, 2022, in McHenry, North Dakota.
A state district court judge reportedly gave Brandt the sentencing with nearly a year of credit for time served under house arrest, including three years’ supervised probation and a yearlong suspension of his driver’s license. The maximum penalty for such charges is 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both, according to The Associated Press.
Ellingson’s mother, Sheri, reportedly requested the judge hand down the maximum sentence for Brandt.
“Shannon, you took a piece of our family that’s not replaceable,” she said, according to Fox News. “When you chose to take Cayler’s life and happiness, you took ours too. You have caused our family endless pain, heartache, sleepless nights.
“Our days, months, and years will never be the same because of your selfishness,” Ellingson added.
The case quickly became controversial after an affidavit from police suggested that Brandt had run down Ellingson following a political disagreement, a claim investigators backtracked later after little evidence supported the assertion.
Foster County State Attorney Kara Brinster said Brandt had been drinking and arguing with Ellingson before the incident.
Brandt claimed in a 911 call that he had felt threatened by Ellingson over the teen’s alleged connection to a “Republican extremist group” and was urging others to attack Brandt after a political argument, according to the call.
“He was threatening me with something to have to do with — something with an extremist Republican group. And then he made a phone call. He made a phone call saying, ‘I thought he was Republican (background noise) or something. You’re going have to come here and handle him.’ I got scared to death. I didn’t know what to do,” a transcript of Brandt’s 911 call says.
Brandt said that he accidentally hit the teen while trying to get away from him during a crowded event in McHenry.
An autopsy report said that Ellingson’s fatal “injuries weren’t caused from being struck by Shannon Brandt’s vehicle and were caused by being run over” once he was on the ground.
Authorities initially charged Brandt with criminal vehicular homicide, but Forster County State’s Attorney Kara Brinster later upgraded those charges to murder, according to Fox News. The charges were later reduced to manslaughter, to which Brandt pleaded guilty on May 18.
Before the judge sentenced Brandt, he addressed the court and apologized to everyone impacted by his actions.
“I’m here to take responsibility for the role I played in this tragedy,” Brandt said. “I’m very sorry to the Ellingson family, my family, and anybody else that has been affected by my actions. I have always enjoyed seeing the Ellingsons and would never have intentionally caused harm to any of them.”
“I am truly devastated by the impact this has had on the entire community,” Brandt added.
Defense attorney Mark Friese told The Associated Press that Brandt “is relieved to have finally been able to offer his apology and to allow the Ellingson family to move forward. It’s been a very difficult year for everyone involved.”
“It got exacerbated by false information making it into the media and people using this tragedy to advance their political platforms,” Friese said.
Brandt reportedly was diagnosed with autism, which Foster County Judge Bradley Cruff mentioned during the sentencing.
“You didn’t intentionally run him over,” Cruff said. “I acknowledge that. I understand what the experts in this case are saying about how your mind works. And you didn’t intentionally kill Cayler.”
“But he did die,” Cruff added. “And that’s a result of your alcohol consumption. You recklessly pushed Cayler to the ground with your SUV, you recklessly ran him over, and you recklessly killed him.”
Leif Le Mahieu contributed to this report.