A New Prague woman faces criminal charges because her texting while driving caused her to hit and kill a 79-year-old man collecting his morning newspaper by the roadside last fall.
Susan Ann Russo, 47, was charged Monday with reckless driving, a gross misdemeanor, and misuse of a wireless communication device, a misdemeanor. The first is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine, the latter by three months and a $1,000 fine.
The crash killed longtime New Prague School District bus driver Joseph F. Tikalsky, who is survived by his wife, Emmy Tikalsky. At 79, he could have been retired, but he enjoyed the school kids, and the feeling was mutual.
On the day he was killed, Tikalsky was between routes. As was his routine, he had parked the bus on his farm, gone inside to make coffee then went to cross the road for his newspaper, said his son-in-law Dan Dorman, of Albert Lea.
Tikalsky was wearing his work uniform: a bright yellow jacket with reflective white stripes, Dorman said. The crash occurred along County Road 29 near 1st Avenue on the outskirts of town. Tikalsky died at the scene, in the roadway in front his home.
At the time of the collision, 7:35 a.m., conditions were dark and rainy but the “primary” factor in the crash was that “Russo was distracted and not paying attention to the roadway ahead of her due to cellphone use,” the Le Sueur County criminal complaint said.
There was no indication she tried to brake before striking Tikalsky.
Le Sueur County Deputy Daniel Tousley said Russo told him she had just read a text from her daughter and was typing a response. “Russo stated that when she looked back up she observed a yellow color blur and that she recognized an impact with the automobile,” the complaint said.
Reached on her cellphone Monday, Russo declined to comment.