LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- Steve Hougom's niece Sara was just 20-years old when two men, in what prosecutors at their sentencing hearing called a "meth-addled" state, entered into her apartment on La Crosse's Division St. and fired two gunshots.
"The biggest pain for me is the why," Steve Hougom said at the November 5 sentencing for Kong Vue and Pao Choua Vue – who both pleaded guilty to first degree reckless homicide in Sara Hougom's death.
"It haunts me every day," he said.
Kong Vue told police in previous interviews that he entered Sara Hougom's apartment carrying a gun when he found the door ajar.
He said he was hoping to steal some money, but fired two shots into the apartment out of fright when he saw Sara lying on the couch.
"The actions of the defendants on March 26 could have been designed to present lethal risk to the public," said Prosecutor Emily Hynek before a sentence of 35-years in prison was handed down to both of the Vue men. "They were driving around high on (methamphetamine). In that state, the .22 caliber gun wasn't their only weapon."
Hynek added both defendants have indicated their memories from the afternoon of the shooting are hazy due to drug use.
"Sara's death was really bad," Steve Hougom said. "Imagine being hit with two, small caliber bullets, internally hemorrhaging and having to think about everything and everyone in this world that you care about as you have to sit there and die."
Hynek said both defendants left the scene of the shooting and went about the rest of their afternoons – not thinking about the possibility that someone in the apartment was injured.
"These two individuals had every opportunity to make a 911 call and save her life," said Sara Hougom's father, Michael, at the sentencing.
"Now I think about what I'm missing, about what my family is missing," he said. "My son will never be known as an uncle. He lost his only sibling and his best friend."
"Now I have to live with the fact that he might run into these two individuals on the street someday," Michael Hougom said. "It's very frightening."
Kong Vue is facing 20 years of extended supervision when he completes his 35-year prison sentence.
Pao Choua Vue faces 15 years.
"When it first came out that drugs were involved with Sara's death, there was a deep sadness," said the Reverend Ellen Rasmussen, of Wesley United Methodist Church, who is a friend of the Hougom family. "Had meth not been used, would Sara still be with us? We don't know."
"There's no crime more serious than taking the life of another person, and in such a senseless way, just for a small profit, potentially," said Judge Todd Bjerke, who sentenced the two defendants. "Sara's gone. It had the ultimate effect on her."
"All that remember her will always remember how she left," Bjerke said. "I just hope they can remember all her good points more than that."
But Rasmussen said the La Crosse Community can still honor Sara.
By living as she did.
"Sara loved life. She embraced it. She celebrated it and she reached out through people," Rasmussen said. "I think Sara would want us to continue to meet people and to find out what's good about them and to celebrate the gift of life."
"So as we work through our grief and journey into a new wholeness – with scarred hearts – we're going to find ways to celebrate Sara in the building of new relationships."
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