Distracted driving is suspected as the cause of a crash that killed a 79-year-old man as he crossed a country road Wednesday to get his morning newspaper on the outskirts of New Prague, a small town where the victim’s family name has resonated for generations.

Joseph F. Tikalsky had just returned from his predawn rounds as a bus driver for the New Prague School District when he was struck along County Road 29 near 1st Avenue, said Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office David Tietz. He died at the scene.

Tikalsky had driven for the district for nearly 50 years, worked on the family’s 300-acre corn and soybean farm in the area and put in decades at the family’s grocery and dry goods store on Main Street until it closed in 1978.

“He was a neighbor of mine,” said Tietz. “I knew him very well and the family very well.”

Conditions at 7:35 a.m. were dark and rainy, the Sheriff’s Office noted in a statement, “however, it is believed that distracted driving also may have played a factor.”

Tietz declined to reveal what might have distracted Susan A. Russo, 47, of New Prague, whose van struck Tikalsky as he walked to his mailbox across the road from his home. Russo remained at the scene and has not been charged.

“This is very unfortunate, but we know [distracted driving] is an epidemic,” Tietz said. “We hear it every day, day in and day out.”

A similar death two weeks ago occurred 16 miles to the north, where Cyril Wolf, 85, was run over and killed after sunset near Jordan as he walked to his mailbox on the other side of Hwy. 282. Wolf led the Sand Creek Township board for nearly 40 years. He also chaired Scott County’s board of townships.

‘Loved by hundreds’

Tikalsky grew up in the area and graduated from New Prague High School and then served in the Army Reserve. He and his wife, Emmy, married in 1962 and raised three children while he worked on the third-generation family farm and at Tikalsky’s.

He was “loved by hundreds of children in this community” who rode his bus over the decades, his funeral home obituary read.

Tikalsky’s son Greg, a social studies teacher at the high school, said he stopped into class Thursday morning and a student who rode his father’s bus came up and expressed her condolences.

Greg said his father “brought nobility to driving a bus.”

Joe Tikalsky briefly retired from bus driving in the late 1990s but returned in 2005, according to Craig Most, the district’s director of operations. Most said Tikalsky was his bus driver when he was a kid and also drove his children to school.

“He loved those kids,” Most said. “He told me every year he enjoyed it, and he’d keep doing it as long as he enjoyed it.”

Tikalsky’s daughter, Mary Jo Dorman, said members of the wrestling team will wear the embroidered initials “J.T.” on their T-shirt sleeve in honor of her father, “who supported the team and would drive the team bus when he could.” Greg Tikalsky is the head coach.

In a nod to his Czech heritage, Joe and Emmy Tikalsky donated $100,000 for a one-room addition to the New Prague Library in 2008 in honor of his immigrant grandmother, Mary J. Tikalsky, who raised a family of six as a widow and operated farms and businesses that supported the kids. The room acts as a repository for the town’s Czech heritage.

Along with his wife, son Greg and daughter Mary Jo, Joe Tikalsky is survived by another son, Joseph III, sister Mary Dwyer and brother Mike.

After his funeral Tuesday at Community Baptist Church, Tikalsky will be buried at Czech National Cemetery in New Prague.