A woman with a record of texting and driving will serve 10 days of a 90-day sentence after pleading guilty to running a stop sign north of the Twin Cities and killing another driver.
Heidi L. Butau, 45, admitted in Chisago County District Court last week to a misdemeanor traffic violation and was immediately sentenced by Judge Robert Rancourt. He suspended all but 10 days of a 90-day jail term and placed Butau on probation for one year.
Butau failed to obey a stop sign northeast of Cambridge on Dec. 10 before her car struck one being driven by 75-year-old John C. Ploetz, of nearby Harris.
In a nod to when the crash occurred and Ploetz’s funeral, the judge is requiring Butau to serve part of her time in jail over two extended weekends in the first half of December.
Butau, who lived in Braham, Minn., at the time of the crash and has relocated to Golden Valley, declined Tuesday to respond to a call for comment. Her attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment.
County Attorney Janet Reiter said Tuesday that prosecutors could not seek a stiffer sentence without additional evidence, including the data deleted from Butau’s cellphone.
Butau denied being on her cellphone and offered to turn it over at the scene of the crash, but the deputy said it would be collected later.
After a sheriff’s investigator retrieved the phone more than two weeks later for inspection, analysis revealed that “all messages prior to [the date it was turned over] were deleted,” according to court records. “Due to most of the data being deleted, [the investigator] could not make any determination on cellular phone usage at the time of the crash.”
Butau has been convicted in Minnesota eight times for speeding, twice for driving with a suspended license, twice for having expired vehicle tabs and once for running a stop sign. Her license was valid on the day of the crash, the state Department of Public Safety said.
She also has been convicted at least twice for texting while driving, most recently on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis on Nov. 16, 3½ weeks before the fatal collision.
Ploetz’s wife of 48 years, Joanne, said Tuesday that Butau did not speak during sentencing. Joanne Ploetz and her husband’s siblings all made victim impact statements, and the judge “reinforced our message that [Butau] needed to make some changes,” she said.
At the time of his death, the retired trucking company owner was the longtime commander of Harris American Legion Post 139. The Vietnam War veteran also was active in the VFW and Vietnam Veterans of America.
He led military ceremonies every Memorial Day at cemeteries in the area and led honors at funeral services for veterans, presenting the American flag to grieving families.
“In an instant, you took this wonderful man from all of us,” Joanne Ploetz said during sentencing. “I am not sure what was so much more important than seeing the stop sign. ... I am not sure how many more things were more important than paying attention to your driving in all of your previous arrests. ... I pray that you have it in you to make changes in your life so you no longer cause this lasting, horrific change in others’ lives.”