St. Paul driver on cellphone sentenced to probation in pedestrian's death

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2011 - 8:33 PM

The woman admitted being distracted after using a cellphone. The victim's mother wants tougher laws.

A St. Paul woman who admitted to speeding in a fatal crash linked to cellphone use was sentenced Friday to probation and community service work.

Alissa L. Anderson, 31, told police that she had just hung up her cellphone before she hit and killed a pedestrian, Emma Holman, 24, on Grand Avenue in St. Paul in November 2010.

The victim's mother, Sharon Holman, said Friday that she planned to ask state legislators for tougher penalties for those who cause fatal accidents and for tighter restrictions on cellphone use. But neither she nor a family friend, Katie Carlson, objected to seeing Anderson go free.

"She is in jail every day just thinking about it," Carlson said.

Sharon Holman hugged Anderson as she left the courtroom, and expressed hope afterward that Anderson might accompany her someday in an appearance before legislators.

Anderson, who has been remorseful and who cooperated with police, said later she was willing to help: "I agree that cellphones can be very distracting," she said.

She had been driving east on Grand Avenue near Hamline Avenue about 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 9, 2010, when she struck Holman, who was not in a crosswalk at the time, a police watch commander said that night. Anderson, who is a nurse, stayed at the scene.

According to the misdemeanor charges filed against her in Ramsey County District Court, she told police she was speaking with a friend on her cellphone as she passed through the Hamline Avenue intersection. After ending the call and putting the phone in her lap, "she looked up just as she was striking [Holman]," the charges say.

Police said that there were no skid marks. In addition, telephone records appeared to confirm that Anderson was distracted by using her phone, the charges say. Accident reconstruction showed she was traveling between 31 and 40 miles per hour in a 30-mph zone.

In October, Anderson pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count as part of a plea deal in which a second misdemeanor charge was dismissed. In Minnesota, many careless drivers who kill someone end up facing misdemeanors because a felony charge requires proof they acted in an extremely dangerous manner.

Sharon Holman said that she accepted Friday's sentence because Anderson hung up before the crash.

She did not know when she would take her cause to the Legislature.

"For now, I miss my daughter dearly," she said. "I always will."

In addition to her job as a nurse, Anderson teaches English once a week to Somali immigrants, and she recently returned from a week of volunteer service in Haiti, said her attorney, Lee Orwig. She would have no trouble fulfilling the requirement to serve 40 hours of community service, he said.

As for her driving practices, Anderson said: "I pay a lot more attention. I try not to talk on the phone."

The accident, she said, was a horrible event that came about because she looked down for a second, "and I wish I could take it back."

Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041

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