A driver who struck and killed a young mother in the time it took him to glance down at his phone will serve 360 days in jail over the next three years.
Christopher M. Weber, a 25-year-old South Dakota National Guardsman, cut a felony plea deal this week, almost five months after he struck and killed 33-year-old Andrea Boeve as she was biking along the side of the road in rural Rock County, pulling her two little girls in a carrier, on their way to visit their grandparents next door.
Weber's almost yearlong sentence will be spread out across three years, along with an additional 300 hours of community service. Weber, of Brandon, S.D., pleaded guilty Monday to criminal vehicular homicide in the June 30 collision that killed Boeve near her home in Steen, and injured her daughters, 1-year-old Mallorie and 4-year-old Claire.
Weber told police he was looking down at his phone and trying to navigate his bank's voice-mail system when his truck drifted to the edge of the road and struck Boeve. He immediately stopped his pickup truck and ran back to try to help Boeve, but she died at the scene. Claire Boeve suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung while Mallorie, who was strapped into a safety harness in the bike carrier, suffered only minor injuries.
The plea agreement calls for Weber to serve 180 days in jail in 2015, 90 in 2016 and 90 in 2017, according to Assistant County Attorney Jeffrey Haubrich.
Once his jail time is over, Weber will be on four years of supervised probation. After that, Haubrich said, there will be no felony on Weber's record and the case will be discharged if he successfully completes probation.
Spreading out the jail time is used "as an incentive for defendants to perform well on probation" and not as an accommodation to Weber's responsibilities with the Guard, the prosecutor said. "If they are doing real well, probation [officials] can recommend waiving the latter jail segments," he said, suggesting that Weber could have his jail time cut.
Driving while texting has been illegal in Minnesota since 2008. Last year, 2,189 drivers were cited for texting, up from 1,718 the year before.
Nationwide, distracted drivers killed 3,328 people in 2012 and injured 421,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
At any moment, 660,000 Americans can be driving while talking on a cellphone or manipulating an electronic device, according to a national survey of driver behavior released last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Criminal vehicular homicide convictions in Minnesota often include prison sentences, but many of those involve drunken driving or fleeing the scene, neither of which occurred in this case.
In 2011 in Anoka County, a driver was sentenced to four years in prison for crashing into the back of a stopped car as she reached for her dropped cellphone. The wreck killed a 14-month-old boy.
Boeve's husband, Matthew, "was involved in the process of developing the plea agreement," Haubrich said.
Defense attorney John Wilka described his client as "a Boy Scout. He has been devastated on a daily basis, but nothing like the victim's family; we understand that."
Wilka added that when Matthew Boeve came upon the crash scene that morning and saw that Weber had tried to save his wife's life, he pleaded with officers to not arrest him.
Wilka said he understands that the plea agreement was "grudgingly acceptable" to Matthew Boeve.
"My client would like to meet with Matthew at the appropriate time, just to express his remorse," Wilka said. "But I imagine things are still really raw."
In the meantime, Weber's future with the Guard is "up to his commanding officer," the defense attorney said. "There are a number of disqualifying events, and we're doing everything we can to eliminate them. Until then, he remains in good standing with the Guard."
Haubrich said "numerous factors" are weighed when plea agreements are reached, and "there is no exact right answer how to handle any case." To Weber's benefit, Haubrich said, "certainly stopping and helping was a good thing."
Weber, who served in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, re-enlisted in 2011 for a second six-year stint.
Haubrich added that "no remedy is adequate to replace a lost life. We believed, given all the considerations that go into a case like this, that this is an appropriate resolution."