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Emily Welker, Published January 30 2014

No jail time for Moorhead father whose baby died in van

MOORHEAD – He spent much of the past six months barred from living with his wife and five small children.

But if not for them, Andrew Sandstrom said in court Thursday, he might not have stood up to take responsibility for the death of his sixth child.

“I came to the realization the only way I could do justice to, and honor my daughter, was to be a better father, to be the best father I could be,” Sandstrom said through tears during his sentencing in Clay County District Court for the death of 5-month-old Christiana. “I miss my daughter more than anything right now.”

Prosecutors sought a year in jail for the 25-year-old father who admitted to second-degree manslaughter after leaving the 5-month-old in the family van parked in front of their Moorhead apartment for several hours June 11, while he slept.

Sandstrom was caring for Christiana and her five other siblings, all 7 years old and younger, while his wife was at work, police reports said.

The report had been the latest in a string of police calls alleging the Sandstroms’ children were being neglected, something Clay County prosecutor Brian Melton pointed out to the court when he asked that Sandstrom be sentenced to jail.

Kenneth Kludt, Sandstrom’s attorney, agreed that the events of the day were tragic, and said the county prosecutor had acted “with a great deal of sensitivity” in handling the case.

But Kludt asked for no jail time for Sandstrom, characterizing him as a man who was struggling under a raft of family problems.

Letters from his parents, wife and friends from church, filed with the court, claim Sandstrom suffered from severe sleep apnea, a condition in which a person can stop breathing entirely, interrupting sleep and leading to chronic sleep deprivation and fatigue.

Sandstrom also survived a near-fatal collision with a train while riding his bicycle as a teenager, costing him part of his foot.

At the time of Christiana’s death, the Sandstroms were raising six children on only his wife’s Wal-Mart salary of $18,000 a year, Kludt said.

“There were too many little kids and not enough money,” he said.

Judge Steven Cahill agreed with Kludt, saying he wasn’t sure the state would gain anything by gathering its “pound of flesh” in punishing Sandstrom with a jail sentence.

“I think that what I see is, he was doing the best he could, the best he knew how,” Cahill said.

Cahill referred to the letters sent on Sandstrom’s behalf asking him not to separate Sandstrom from his family, who he said would also be punished if Sandstrom served jail time.

Sandstrom, Cahill said, has already been punished enough.

Sandstrom told the court he was allowed by Clay County Social Services to move back home with his wife, Shayna, and five surviving children some time ago.

Cahill sentenced Sandstrom to 10 years of probation and required him to undergo a physical and mental health assessment.

Melton said part of his recommendation for jail time for Sandstrom was because of the need for accountability, and because lesser crimes such as drunk driving typically carry with them jail sentences.

Sandstrom said in court that he chose not to fight the charges because he felt it would not honor his daughter’s memory to do so.

“I will not fail my children,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541