At night, Chris Weber relives the crash he caused but didn’t see.
A year ago, driving his pickup in rural Rock County, he decided to call his bank to make a loan payment. He looked down at his cellphone. Then he heard a thud.
He had hit Andrea Boeve, 33, who was biking alongside Hwy. 270, her two daughters in a carrier behind her. He ran to her, performing CPR, but Boeve died at the side of the road.
“My heart dropped,” Weber told reporters Monday at a news conference in St. Paul. “I knew it was my fault.”
A few days after being released from jail, Weber is speaking publicly, hoping his story will prevent people from making the same mistake. He and Andrea’s husband Matt Boeve tell their stories in a 10-minute video by the Minnesota State Patrol, titled “Shattered Dreams: Distracted Driving Changes Lives.”
Distracted driving accounts for one in four crashes, state statistics show. Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol, warned drivers to avoid not only texting, but any activity that takes their eyes off the road, such as eating or entering information into a GPS.
Driving 55 miles per hour translates to 90 feet per second, he said, so “if you look away for one second … you just drove 90 feet without seeing anything.”
The video, played at Monday’s news conference, features family photos of Andrea Boeve cuddling her daughters, who survived the crash — Claire, who was 4 at the time, and Mallorie, who was 11 months old. Those daughters “no longer have a mom as a result of this crash,” the video says.
Watching, Weber swallowed hard, glancing down.
He has two young children, he said, so he “can’t imagine” Matt Boeve having to raise his two girls on his own.
Boeve did not speak at Monday’s news conference. In the video, he talks about being in a grain bin when he got the call, about the loneliness he’s felt since his soul mate died. “We miss Andrea more than anyone can imagine,” he said in a statement.
“My hope is that this video will send a powerful message that no call or text is worth taking another person’s life on the road,” Boeve said. “Before this crash, that could have easily been me, but no longer do I use my cellphone while driving.”
[The press conference can be viewed here.]
Distracted driving contributed to 61 deaths and 198 serious injuries in 2014, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Those numbers — which include distractions other than phones — are down from a decade ago, when distracted driving caused 98 deaths and 427 serious injuries in 2005.
Langer said Monday that distracted driving is underreported, partly because “we’re not always able to prove what exactly occurred when someone’s behind the wheel.”
Before the accident, Weber was a typical 26-year-old, “loving life,” he said. He fished and hunted. A South Dakota National Guardsman, he worked as an electrician and, on June 30, was driving from one job site to the next. “I thought, ‘What better time? I’ve done it before. Why not do it now?’ ”
“It never should have happened,” he said Monday.
In November, Weber pleaded guilty to felony charges of criminal vehicular homicide. He was released from jail Thursday after serving a 120-day sentence. His sentence also includes 300 hours of community service work and three years of probation. But he said he wasn’t required to speak publicly about his crime.
“I’m doing this because I want to — because I want to make a change,” he said. “This is an epidemic. This is why I’m here today. Not because of community service. Because I want to.”
In the coming months, Weber plans to talk to high school students in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota, where he was living before the crash.
Law enforcement officers cited 909 drivers across the state for texting and driving over six days in April, or about 150 drivers a day. That’s a threefold increase from an enforcement period in 2014, which netted about 55 drivers a day.
That increase is probably due to “better vigilance among officers to see it and work to identify it,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson, public information officer for the State Patrol. “But I do think we have a lot more drivers using things in their vehicle that are causing distractions than we have drunk drivers.”
Some people believe that they’re safe if they text at a traffic stop or on a road they know well, Nielson said. But “eventually, this is going to catch up to them.”
Before the crash, Weber didn’t mind seeing people on their phones, “because I was one of them.” But now, “it makes me sick,” he said.
Weber throws his cellphone in a cubby. If that’s full, he puts it “out of reach,” he said. “I turn it on vibrate so I can’t even hear it.”