In one of the most serious cases of its kind in Hennepin County, an Eden Prairie woman faces a litany of charges from a head-on collision with a motorcyclist that occurred as she allegedly texted while driving.
Amanda Elizabeth Manzanares, 20, was charged this week with felony criminal vehicular operation and two counts of child endangerment in the Oct. 7 crash that critically injured Barry Lawrence, 65, of Minnetonka. Manzanares and her two daughters, ages 1 and 3, were unhurt.
Lawrence, who has had three surgeries and continues to receive medical treatment, later told police that Manzanares "never looked up" as her vehicle came at him on Excelsior Boulevard, despite his efforts to get out of the way and yell to get her attention. Manzanares told police she was not texting or talking on her phone while driving.
At a news conference Tuesday, Minnesotans for Safe Driving founder Jon Cummings held up his cell phone and said: "They're like any other tool; it can save your life or it can kill you.
"But things like this happen in a blink of an eye. Nobody thinks this will happen to them; everyone thinks they're special."
Although citations for texting while driving are not uncommon, this is the most serious set of charges filed in Hennepin County since state law banned the practice in 2008, said Santo Cruz, a spokesman with the Hennepin County attorney's office.
It's not the first case of its kind. Serious injuries and deaths statewide are linked to distracted driving each year -- although authorities say those involving texting are seriously underreported.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, driver inattention and distraction killed 58 people and injured 8,354 in 2009, accounting for 9 percent of fatalities and nearly a fifth of injury crashes. Data on crashes involving cellphone use is unavailable, however, partly because it's difficult to prove, Cummings said.
"We've had a few in the past, but what we're concerned about is the increased numbers we're seeing," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who was at Tuesday's news conference in Minneapolis.
On Wednesday morning, the Department of Public Safety will hold a news conference at East Ridge High School in Woodbury to announce a statewide enforcement and education campaign against distracted driving.
In March of last year, Jessica Howe of Minneapolis allegedly was reaching for a ringing cellphone when her car rear-ended a vehicle in Columbia Heights, causing a chain-reaction crash that killed a 14-month-old boy. She was charged with criminal vehicular homicide.
Manzanares also faces charges of driving without a license, driving without insurance and texting while driving, all misdemeanors. She was not jailed and no court date has been set. Efforts to reach her Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Record of texts before crash
In the October crash, police were called to the scene at 8:03 a.m. They seized Manzanares' phone, and a forensic examiner found that she had received and sent several texts in a 19-minute period ending at 7:58 a.m., according to charges. The examination also indicated that she made calls from the phone at 8:02 and 8:04 a.m., the charges said.
Lawrence told investigators that he was headed east on Excelsior and saw a westbound vehicle cross into his lane. That driver's head was down, he said, and he could only see the top of it. Lawrence's injuries included a collapsed lung, broken ribs and severe tendon damage to his foot, and he has incurred more than $300,000 in medical bills. Manzanares told police she was not texting or using her cellphone. She said that she heard the phone vibrate, indicating that she had received a text, but that the phone was on the floor and she did not try to reach for it.
According to the charges, Manzanares told police she didn't remember what happened and acknowledged that she lacked a valid driver's license but was driving her mother's car with a learner's permit. She acknowledged that she knew the car was not insured and that she was driving illegally, but later claimed that she "blacked out" and didn't remember the accident. There were no alcohol or drugs in her system, according to a police report.
An examination of Manzanares' phone reflected a seemingly mundane exchange with two friends that morning.
"Hey im running a little behind" she wrote one, adding that she would swing by after dropping her daughters off at day care. When he offered to postpone their plans, she took him up on it.
Another friend messaged with an apology, blaming pneumonia for a lack of contact.
"Ouch that's always a bad thing to get" Manzanares responded.
At 7:58, Manzanares' friend texted again, the report said.
"Obviously, she was reaching down for the cellphone that was vibrating at the time of the accident and came right up onto the curb," County Attorney Freeman said Tuesday.
Although a conviction on the criminal vehicular operation charge calls for probation, Freeman said his office would seek time in the Hennepin County workhouse if she is convicted.
According to Cummings, what she would have to live with if convicted transcends a jail sentence.
"These people that kill people or cripple them, they've got to live with that for the rest of their lives."
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921