A teen driver profanely rebuffed the pleas of a passenger to stop texting, and as screams of “red light! red light!” echoed in the pickup truck, she struck a van in Sherburne County and killed the other driver and his 10-year-old daughter, according to prosecutors.
Once authorities had exposed as a lie the initial explanation that her boyfriend had been driving, Carlee R. Bollig, 17, of Little Falls, Minn., was charged last week in District Court with two counts each of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation, texting and driving, and driving without a valid license.
Killed in the July 21 crash were the van’s driver, Charles P. Maurer, 54, of Becker, and his daughter Cassy. The crash occurred about 8 p.m. at Hwy. 10 and County Road 11 between Becker and Big Lake.
“It is an illusion to believe that texting while driving is not dangerous behavior,” State Patrol Lt. Tiffani Schweigart, the chief spokeswoman for the agency that led the investigation into the crash, said Saturday. “This behavior is just as dangerous as DWI in that lives can change or be lost in the fraction of a second.”
Three people in Bollig’s pickup, all friends from Little Falls, also were injured but survived: Deven M. Garlock, 18, George E. Saldana, 18, and Caysi J. Jaronske, 17. The others in the van survived their injuries: Cassy’s sister Alenita, 16, and friend Alora K. Nelson, 15, of Becker.
Jaronske told investigators that she implored Bollig on at least “eight or nine occasions” since they left St. Cloud to stop texting while driving, according to the allegations spelled out in a juvenile petition. Bollig, however, “refused to comply,” the juvenile petition read.
In response to Jaronske’s pleas to stop texting and driving, Bollig yelled and said she “didn’t care if she crashed,” and eventually she told her friend to “f — - off,” according to a search warrant affidavit filed in court three weeks after the crash.
Just as the pickup was about to enter the intersection, the charging petition read, Jaronske said someone yelled, “red light, red light!”
Bollig never applied the brakes, investigators determined, the pickup kept going on eastbound Hwy. 10 and it T-boned the van on the driver’s side as it traveled north on County Road 11, prosecutors allege.
Analysis of Bollig’s cellphone found that she sent and received “multiple electronic messages” on Facebook for eight minutes leading up to the crash, the complaint read.
Charles Maurer was pronounced dead that night at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. Cassy, in the same hospital with severe head injuries, died 10 days later. She would have been a fifth-grader at Becker School.
Cassy was a member of St. Marcus Catholic Church in Clear Lake, where she was a mass server. She enjoyed playing cribbage, biking, fishing, reading and playing games on her iPad. A fundraising page at gofundme.com/8gg894ptg8 has exceeded its goal of $8,000 pledged on behalf of the family.
Document: A lie is concocted
At first, “information on the scene” pointed to Garlock as the driver of the pickup, according to a search warrant affidavit. However, he told a trooper soon after the crash that he was in the back seat behind his girlfriend, and when a state trooper questioned Bollig and her sister, they acted on the advice of their mother and an attorney and refused to answer questions, the affidavit continued.
On July 31, Jaronske revealed to the trooper that Bollig and Saldana plotted to say Garlock was driving and ran the red light because he was the only one in the pickup with a valid license, the affidavit read.
That same day, the trooper obtained DNA from Bollig and Garlock to help determine who was driving, the court document read. The affidavit said blood was left throughout the pickup’s seating area and hair was embedded in the shattered windshield on the passenger side, offering biological evidence about who was seated where at the time of impact.
A search of the pickup also turned up a bag belonging to Bollig that held a small amount of synthetic marijuana, a digital scale and a smoking pipe, the court document read. Another pipe was discovered on the front passenger seat.
The document also noted one more item spotted and collected, this one sitting near the brake pedal: a cellphone.
Last year in Minnesota, 61 deaths and more than 7,000 injuries were attributed to either driver inattention or distraction, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Over the past five years, 19 percent of all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the state were distraction-related, the agency added.
A $225 increase in the fine for texting while driving went into effect in Minnesota in August. The increase is in addition to the current $50 fine and applies to second and subsequent convictions.
According to the state, 3,200 texting-while-driving citations were issued in 2014, a 278 percent jump since 2010.