It’s been over 18 months since that tragic January day when Kevin and Georgeanne Hansen received the worst news of their lives. Their 16-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn had been killed by a drunk driver. Since then, they’ve made it their goal to honor her and celebrate her life whenever and wherever they can.
“Kaitlyn was goofy. She loved to laugh,” Kevin related. “We can’t find enough outlets to express to the world what a beautiful person we lost unnecessarily.”
Kaitlyn was a vibrant young lady who wanted to be a forensic scientist after graduating from high school. She was active in cheerleading, choir, band, and many other extracurricular activities at Fillmore Central.
“She wasn’t a perfect person, but she was a unique, loving person,” Kevin said, adding that the home he and Georgeanne live in with Kaitlyn’s 16-year-old brother, Keith seems to have gone silent. “She was your friend before you knew you needed one,” Georgeanne recalled.
When Kaitlyn got her driver’s license, the thing she was the most excited about was checking the organ donor box. “It makes you pretty proud,” Kevin said. So far, Kaitlyn’s donations have been used for two heart valve recipients, 52 tissue and bone allografts which include knee/sports operations, 20 dental procedures, and 28 spine related surgeries. She has saved the lives of a 5-month-old baby girl and a 7-year-old boy through her donations.
On August 10, 2017, Cindy Mueske, the drunk driver who killed Kaitlyn, was sentenced to 48 months in prison, finally bringing an end to the long, drawn out legal process. “A year and a half is a long time to get some closure,” Kevin stated. “We just wanted some justice for Kaitlyn.”
The sentencing was bittersweet for Kaitlyn’s family and friends. “We got the maximum that was going to be had by the current court system,” Kevin said. However, they don’t feel like it was enough. To hear that Mueske only got four years for killing Kaitlyn was devastating.
“We disagree with the amount of time that a person gets under these circumstances,” he continued. “She chose to speed and drink and drive and that should count for something. It was no accident.”
Georgeanne also noted that the defendant had all the rights in the case while, as parents of the victim, they had none. In her victim statement that she read at the sentencing, she pointed out that Mueske was able to postpone court dates and drag the case on while the only thing the family could do was wait.
During Mueske’s statement to the court, she said that she felt Kaitlyn was her guardian angel the day of the crash and saved her life.
“That was the wrong thing to say,” Georgeanne declared. Kevin recounted that by the time Mueske was done with her statement, he was facing the opposite wall because he couldn’t even look at her. “She went way over the line. She doesn’t need to speak Kaitlyn’s name.”
Kevin, Georgeanne and Kaitlyn’s two brothers, Justin and Keith, have made it their mission to celebrate Kaitlyn’s life and keep her memory alive. Many of their friends and family have joined them in that cause.
Georgeanne’s nephew made a cross and put it up along Highway 52 at the scene of the crash and a friend of the family has been tending to the spot. Others have left flowers and memorabilia there in Kaitlyn’s honor.
“The school did an exceptional job keeping her involved during her senior year,” Kevin noted. The staff and students at Fillmore Central have worked hard to keep Kaitlyn’s memory alive. Kaitlyn’s locker at school will always be hers and is decorated in her memory. The football team put decals on their helmets to honor her last year, and a full page in the yearbook was dedicated to her. A seat was left open for Kaitlyn at the spring concert and at what would have been her graduation.
Kaitlyn’s parents have left her room the way it was and welcome her friends to come and sit in it to remember her. “They need ways to heal,” Kevin said. Using donations, Kevin and Georgeanne started a yearly scholarship at Fillmore Central in Kaitlyn’s memory under the music and arts category.
“Our daughter left the house. She wasn’t texting, she wasn’t drinking, she had her seatbelt on. She was doing everything right,” Kevin said. He and Georgeanne would like to start a petition changing the sentencing guidelines for people who kill others on the road because of reckless driving. “It’s a slap on the hand, and they’re just going to do it again,” Georgeanne, who is planning to get involved with MADD, pointed out. “The consequences need to be steeper.”
Kevin and Georgeanne are very opposed to the new law in Minnesota allowing the sale of alcohol on Sundays. “We’re trying to get drunk drivers off the road, and now you have them going out for alcohol on Sundays when people are coming home from church,” Georgeanne pointed out.
“We don’t have a problem with people drinking,” Kevin added. “But people drinking and then getting behind the wheel, now that we have a problem with.”
Kevin and Georgeanne have also been very vocal about the way emergency responders are treated. “I can’t find enough ways to say thank you for all they do. Not just for that scene, but for what they do all the time,” Kevin said. Both of them make it a point to stop and thank those who were involved in the crash whenever they get the opportunity.
“It’s a hard, thankless job,” Kevin pointed out. “We need to stop and think about what emergency response people go through every day. People get an attitude when they get pulled over, but they’re doing their job and keeping people safe.”
Kevin will never forget walking down the embankment to Kaitlyn’s car to identify his daughter at the crash scene. Even though he was looking down, he noticed that everyone on the scene stopped what they were doing and stood still as soon out of respect as they realized it was him. “The respect and professionalism they showed was amazing,” he said. “It was especially hard since some of them knew Kaitlyn.”
“I’m a lot more vocal now about people taking time to say thank you to our response people,” Kevin said. “If you haven’t ever had to deal with something like what we’ve had to deal with, you don’t think twice about it, but it’s an ugly, thankless job. We need to be kinder and gentler topeople.”