S. Dakota driver told police he was distracted when he hit a woman and two kids on a bike.
A pickup truck driver was allegedly watching his phone, not the road, when he struck and killed a young mother who was biking with her children in the southwestern corner of Minnesota this week.
The driver, 25-year-old Christopher M. Weber of Madison, S.D., appeared in court Wednesday and was released on $20,000 bail and the condition that he not use a cellphone while driving. He faces a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide.
Weber told police he was trying to navigate his bank’s automated phone system Monday morning when his one-ton 2003 Chevrolet truck struck Andrea Boeve as she biked along County Road 11 with her two small daughters — Claire, 4, and 1-year-old Mallorie — in a bike stroller behind her.
According to the Rock County criminal complaint, Weber said he was studying the phone, waiting to hear which number he should press to move to the next stage in the banking system, when he collided with the family. By the time police arrived, Weber was attempting CPR, but Boeve, 33, died at the scene.
“I was on my mobile banking, listening to the voice recorder,” Weber told police, according to the complaint filed Wednesday. “I was listening to menu options, listening for a touch tone — which one I needed to push.”
Then, he said, “I heard a thump, like I hit something. I looked in my rearview mirror. I saw a bicycle. I pulled over as fast as I can and ran back toward the bike, where I saw the gal in the ditch.”
When police examined the scene, they found the bike stroller wheels as far over to the right side of the road as possible, half onto the gravel, as if Boeve had tried to squeeze out of the way of the flatbed pickup. Claire suffered a broken rib and punctured lung in the collision. Mallorie sustained only minor injuries.
The collision happened just across the road from the home of Boeve’s in-laws. According to the Associated Press, Boeve and her husband, Matt, lived next door to his parents on a large cattle ranch just west of the small town of Steen, population 180. The children were cared for by their grandparents Monday until emergency workers arrived.
Questioned by police, Weber said it would be “fair to say” he was looking at the phone, not the road, at the time of the collision. The speed limit on that stretch of County Road 11 is 55 miles per hour, and authorities said there was no indication that he was speeding. Tests showed no drugs or alcohol in his system.
As Weber headed to court, Boeve’s relatives and friends mourned the loss of a vibrant woman, a devoted wife and mother, and a dedicated nurse.
Pastor Dan Kuik of the Reformed Church of Steen said the family was praying for the driver who killed her — and hoping other drivers learn from the tragedy and put their phones away before they get behind the wheel.
“She was young and alive and smiling and happy and vibrant,” Kuik said. “She was always smiling. She was an awesome mother, an awesome wife. This is a tough loss for a lot of people.”
Kuik was at the family’s side within 45 minutes of the accident. Even then, he said, her shocked and grieving husband, parents and in-laws were concerned about the driver.
“They are not resentful or bitter. They don’t want to ruin his life,” Kuik said. “They would like people to take note of this and maybe take some stock in how we use our phones on the road and how we’re distracted by them. Maybe take a little more caution.”
Weber was charged Wednesday with a felony count of criminal vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, and a misdemeanor count of criminal vehicular operation, which carries a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
The fact that Weber was distracted by his cellphone turned the accident into a case of gross negligence, Assistant Rock County Attorney Jeffrey Haubrich said in a statement Wednesday.
“The Rock County attorney’s office would like to extend its deepest sympathy to the Boeve family and would like to ask others for thoughts and prayers for them during this difficult time,” Haubrich said.
Funeral arrangements are on hold, Kuik said, until Claire is out of the hospital. She is in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.