January 18, 2022

Gophers coach calls Orono crash that killed son, friend ‘murder’

6 min read

In late July, University of Minnesota men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko and his wife, Shelley, lost their 20-year-old Mack in a car crash along with 24-year-old Sam Schuneman, whose deepening relationship with their daughter, Ella, appeared to be headed for marriage, a happy union that would bind the families for a lifetime.

Instead the Motzkos and Schuneman’s parents, Tom and Yvonne, are united in the unbearable loss of their sons and anger at a stranger who, according to charges, drove with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour on a winding road near his gated $6 million Orono mansion.

“This was murder,” Bob Motzko said.

“Absolutely,” Tom Schueneman said. “These weren’t two reckless kids who were out on some joy ride.”

The Motzkos and the Schunemans spoke publicly for the first time since the crash in an interview with the Star Tribune at the downtown Minneapolis offices of their civil lawyers, Robert Bennett and Phil Sieff. Their grief is excruciatingly raw, compounded by disbelief that their sons’ lives ended after a brief ride with a reckless stranger.

“There’s two paths,” Motzko said. “We’re trying to put our lives back together and then you’ve got this, because our son was taken from us, you have this anger, this never should have happened. It shouldn’t happen to any parent.”

When Motzko moved from St. Cloud State University’s hockey coaching job to became head coach of the Gophers hockey team in the summer of 2018, he talked about weaving time with his three children, Ella, Mack and Beau, into his demanding work.

“We were lucky,” Motzko said of Mack. “This kid had the heart that was kind of the flame of our family.”

Mack Motzko lived in St. Cloud, but he called to check in with his parents daily. When he was staying with his parents, Bob and Shelley Motzko said, Mack was the kid who would track them down and hug them when he arrived.

Mack had his own locker at the St. Cloud rink where his dad coached and was close to the players. He played hockey at St. Cloud Cathedral before graduating in 2020. Motzko said his son knew Minnesota and Iowa, so the week before he died they went on a three-day college tour in Ohio with a stop at the University of Notre Dame. He thinks the Catholic university captured Mack’s heart.

After they returned from the college trip, Mack Motzko stayed in the Twin Cities to have dinner with his sister and her new beau.

Tom Schuneman said everything was falling into place for his son. Work was going well in his Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based job in selling law enforcement equipment for Axon. Schuneman said his son had confided in a friend that Ella was “the one.”

Sam Schuneman was the third of four kids and a recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas. As soon as he was able to work at age 15, he got a seasonal job working in the pool area, doing whatever needed to be done at the Medina Country Club.

Tom Schuneman said his son understood that, “You want something in life, you go and work for it.”

Ella Motzko and Sam Schuneman met through friends about two months ago. Sam Schuneman invited Ella Motzko to his parents’ Maple Grove house the following day and the two went on a boat ride and talked for hours. When Schuneman returned to Arizona, the relationship deepened as the conversations continued via video chats.

Motzko said he was wary about the speed of their dating, but his wife told him, “This is Ella’s person.”

Shelley Motzko said she knew by the way her daughter talked about Sam as hardworking, loving and honest. “She said, ‘Mom, he would just fit in. He would just be part of our family,’ ” Shelley Motzko said. Then turning to the Schunemans, she said, “She was so happy she met you right away and she was so comfortable there.”

Yvonne Schuneman said, “Sam used to tell me all the time how he loved her laugh.”

Schuneman wanted to get to know Ella Motzko’s family. So on the evening of July 24, they went for dinner with Mack Motzko at Maynards on Lake Minnetonka.

Somehow they ended up back at the home of 51-year-old James D. Blue on North Shore Drive. The parents said the young men were probably curious and gawking. They were seen playing basketball in the driveway until Blue wanted to show off his 2017 Bentley Flying Spur.

Both Schuneman and Motzko wore seat belts.

Blue was thrown from the vehicle and survived. He was charged Monday in Hennepin County with four counts of criminal vehicular homicide.

The families reach for bits of comfort where they can.

The Schunemans hugged Sam on his way out the door Saturday night, knowing they wouldn’t see him before he caught his 7 a.m. flight to Arizona on Sunday. Sam told them, “I’ll be back for the State Fair,” Tom Schuneman said.

Motzko said he has no regrets.

“Zero,” Motzko said. “It was an unconditional love that he gave us and we gave him every day. … He left the world so loved. The pain is, it’s unbearable.”

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