Deputy’s family, teen who killed him face future

DUNDAS, Minn. (AP) — Timothy Chambers, 19, knows what to expect in his future.
He is serving a life prison sentence without parole for the death of Rice County Sheriff’s Deputy John Liebenstein, who died when Chambers rammed Liebenstein’s unmarked squad car during a chase in May 1996.
Jean Liebenstein, the deputy’s widow, isn’t so sure what’s ahead of her and her children, but she clearly recalls the past.
The family is anchored to a moment when Chambers, then 17, took police on a half-hour, 90-mph joyride before plowing into the deputy’s cruiser.
“This whole thing shook our sense of security. I feel violated,” Jean Liebenstein says. “The plans that we had concerned us as a family and John and me together. I don’t have that anymore. So now I feel like I’m out there, trying to find my niche.”
In the mid-1980s, John Liebenstein moved his young family onto the pasture land his grandfather once farmed in Dundas. The family has long since rented out about 35 acres of their farmland; the rest is slough.
Jean, 43, lives there with their children, Jordan, 14; Jessica, 11; and Jillian, 9.
Jordan tends to 40 head of sheep as a hobby. He and his father wanted more and spent a lot of time before his death at livestock auctions. Jordan, without his father, took his sheep all the way to the State Fair last summer.
After her husband’s death, Jean Liebenstein finished coursework to become a paralegal but continues to work as a customer service representative at Sheldahl, a high-technology manufacturing firm in nearby Northfield. That’s where she learned her husband had died and where she still goes four days a week.
“I need that extra day to take care of things and to cry and to heal,” she says, reaching for a tissue to wipe her eyes.
At Oak Park Heights Prison, meanwhile, Chambers’ remorse has been relentless.
“I blame myself every day for what happened,” he says.
The youngest person in Minnesota to receive a sentence of life in prison without parole, Chambers is appealing the judgment.
“I don’t think anybody my age should be sentenced to life without parole,” Chambers says. “I made a mistake, you know. Cost someone his life. But this is a pretty big thing.”
Chambers isn’t the only one being blamed for Liebenstein’s death. Starting March 17, a Scott County jury will decide who should pay damages: Chambers, who drove the stolen car, or Larry Gensmer, who left the keys inside the unattended vehicle.
Jean Liebenstein is seeking more than $50,000 in damages in the civil suit for the loss of her husband’s “guidance, counsel, aid, comfort, companionship, assistance, protection and means of support.”
Under Minnesota’s Safety Responsibility Act, the owner of a vehicle is liable for any act committed by someone he or she authorizes to use the car. The exception is that auto theft is not an authorized use, said Michael Klutho, a Minneapolis attorney.