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Larimore man sentenced to year in jail for fatal drunk-driving crash

Paul Albert Lilja, 44, of Larimore, N.D., listens to his attorney, Peter Welte (left), during sentencing in Grand Forks District Court after Lilja changed his plea to guilty in the death of Allen Miller on Monday, June 11, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Defense attorney Peter Welte (right) speaks with Assistant State's Attorney Faye Jasmer (center) prior to the sentencing of Paul Albert Lilja in Grand Forks District Court on Monday afternoon. Nick Nelson /Forum News Service2 / 2

GRAND FORKS—Friends, family and co-workers have struggled without Allen Miller since he was killed last year in a drunk-driving crash, his ex-wife said Monday as the Larimore, N.D., man responsible for his death was sentenced to less than a year in jail.

"If anybody needed anything, Allen was always there for friends and family," said Linda Miller, who was married to Allen Miller of Petersburg for 30 years before their 2010 divorce. "His death impacted a lot of people."

Other than pleading guilty to a Class C felony of negligent homicide, 44-year-old Paul Albert Lilja said little as he was sentenced by Grand Forks District Judge Lolita Romanick to five years in prison, the maximum sentence for the charge. Because of a plea agreement, he will only have to serve 360 days in the Grand Forks County Correctional Center as part of a plea agreement. He also will be credited for three days of time served.

Lilja initially was charged with criminal vehicular homicide, a Class A felony, and negligent homicide after he caused a crash Sept. 8 a half-mile east of Larimore on Grand Forks County Road 4. While driving a pickup east on the road, he attempted to turn left into a family member's driveway, according to court documents.

He collided with a motorcycle driven by Allen Miller, court documents said. Lilja attempted to revive Allen Miller with CPR, but the motorcyclist died from his injuries.

Lilja, who was not injured in the crash, told investigators he misjudged the distance between him and the motorcycle. He also admitted to drinking four beers before the crash, according to court documents.

A chemical breath test revealed his blood alcohol content was 0.105 percent, which is above the legal limit. Investigators also found an empty beer can by Lilja's pickup and an unopened beer can inside the vehicle, court documents said.

Attorney Peter Welte, who spoke on behalf of Lilja, called the crash a "terrible tragedy" for two families. Welte said his client was "terribly sorry" and would not forget what happened.

"He wishes he could turn back the clock, but he cannot," Welte said after presenting nine character letters on behalf of Lilja to the court.

Prosecutors also presented three victim impact statements.

Lilja declined to give a statement during the hearing.

The more serious charge of criminal vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison, was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Lilja, who does not have a criminal history in North Dakota, can apply for work release during his sentence and is eligible for a sentence reduction for good behavior, but he also could be resentenced to the full five years if he violates the conditions of his supervised probation.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation will decide if his driver license will be suspended for 360 days, and it can approve an application for him to drive a vehicle for work-related purposes, the plea agreement said.

Romanick also ordered Lilja to complete 20 hours of community service in which he would speak to are students about the consequences of driving drunk.

He must report to jail by June 25.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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