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Family Recounts Painful Loss

April 12, 2012

Staff photo/Mike Burkholder: John Bruns holds up photographs of his daughter Aubrey during the sentencing hearing of Jinghao Xu in Mercer County Common Pleas Court Wednesday. Xu was sentenced to 180 days in jail and will be deported for causing a collision that killed Aubrey in October.

CELINA — A Korean man convicted of causing a collision that killed a Minster girl in October was sentenced to 180 days in jail and will be deported.

Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham imposed the jail term on  Jinghao Xu, 50, as a result of a collision that took place Oct. 15 at the intersection of Ohio 119 and U.S. 127 in Granville Township. Aubrey L. Bruns, 3, of Minster, died from injuries suffered in the collision.

During a change-of-plea hearing in March, Xu pleaded no contest to one count of vehicular homicide, a fourth-degree felony. Ingraham found Xu guilty of the charge.

At his sentencing hearing, Ingraham acknowledged Ohio’s sentencing guidelines left him little room to impose a prison sentence on Xu despite a fourth-degree felony carrying a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fox acknowledged the same regarding Xu’s sentence. However, he asked Ingraham to impose a sentence that would allow the Bruns family to seek answers to their questions.

“Under the new sentencing guidelines, except for the fact that Aubrey was killed in this matter, there are absolutely no other factors that lead in favor of the court being able to find that the purposes and principles of Ohio’s sentencing law would permit a prison term in this case — and I have explained that,” Fox said. “That contributes to the Brunses seeking questions and answers elsewhere ... I ask this court to use its power to fashion a sentence that gives the Bruns family the ability to seek answers to questions that are important to them.”

Fox said the Bruns family is looking for answers to questions ranging from how Xu remained in the United States and how he was able to obtain an Illinois operator’s license. Those questions, Fox noted, remain unanswered.

“What we do know is that the defendant will be deported,” Fox said. “I am not aware of any method to prevent that deportation from happening. So once released from custody by this court, it will happen. So I am asking this court to fashion a sentence to keep this defendant here long enough so that the Bruns family can continue to seek answers to their questions if they desire.”

Before Xu was sentenced, Aubrey’s father John Bruns read a statement to the court. In it, he recounted the pain of losing his daughter and the moments that were taken from him as a result of Xu’s actions Oct. 15.

“Things I’ve lost — the words ‘everything will be OK,’ the chance to shield my boys from sadness and suffering, thoughts my wife will be OK if she is home alone, the idea I can protect my family, confidence I can leave and everything is going to be OK,” Bruns said as he choked back tears. “I have lost the joy my daughter would have had seeing her favorite princess at Disney World, teaching her to ride a bike, throwing a ball with her, stressing out on her first date, walking my daughter down the aisle.”

Bruns acknowledged Xu did not purposely cause the collision that killed his daughter. However, he wanted Ingraham to impose a sentence that would make him responsible for his actions that day.

“It was an accident — however we would like for him to take responsibility for what he has done and show some remorse for the loss of our precious Aubrey,” Bruns said.

Marvin Kremer read a statement on behalf of Aubrey’s mother Rebecca Bruns. In it, Kremer read how Rebecca Bruns has dealt with the pain of losing “her shadow” and how she has explained the loss to her two sons.

“It is an indescribable pain, which includes hopelessness and heartache,” Kremer read from the statement. “There are no words to describe how I feel.”

Rebecca Bruns outlined her feelings during the previous week, including how sadness set in during Easter at the thought of coloring eggs without her daughter.

“Aubrey only had a chance to do this one year — a joyful experience is tainted,” Kremer read. “Where is the joy in coloring Easter eggs.”

Through his interpreter, Xu apologized for his actions that led to the collision. Xu said he has a daughter and understands the pain the Bruns family is going through.

“He said he is very, very sorry for this accident,” Xu’s interpreter said. “Also, he regrets the accident. Sometimes he cannot sleep.”

According to a crash report, Xu was driving a 2006 Chevrolet Express Van westbound on Ohio 119. He stopped at the stop sign and entered the intersection. Upon entering the intersection, the van was struck by a northbound 2002 Chevrolet Prism. Three other people in the Prism, including the driver, were treated for injuries, as was Xu.

After the crash, law enforcement officials checked into Xu’s immigration status because he reportedly told them he was not a U.S. citizen. Officials discovered Xu, who claimed to have an Illinois’ operator’s license, was driving without a valid license.

Xu also has been named a defendant in a civil suit filed in Mercer County Common Pleas Court related to the collision.

That matter is still pending.

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