A semitrailer truck driver charged in a deadly distracted driving crash that killed a motorist at a stoplight in Lake Elmo in 2018 pleaded guilty Monday to criminal vehicular homicide in Washington County District Court.
Samuel Wayne Hicks, 29, of Independence, Wis., had pleaded not guilty in October, but changed his plea before the trial, which was scheduled to begin this week.
Under terms of the plea deal, Hicks could receive up to a year in jail and 10 years on probation when he is sentenced on July 19. He also will be required to perform community service and work with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to produce videos and participate in educational outreach programs to highlight the dangers of distracted driving, said prosecutor Siv Yurichuk.
“I’m glad he’s taking responsibility,” she said. “It was a horrific crash.”
Hicks was looking at his phone and traveling east at 63 mph on Hwy. 36 when he slammed into the back of Robert Bursik’s Toyota Scion at the intersection of Lake Elmo Avenue on Feb. 27, 2018.
Hicks originally said he had seen a green light at Lake Elmo Avenue as he approached from a distance, according to the charges. He said he was distracted by another vehicle and turned to look at it before he hit Bursik, who was stopped at the stoplight. Hicks later admitted he had been texting his girlfriend and using an app to check information about a house.
Authorities obtained a video from inside Hicks’ cab that showed him holding a phone in his right hand as he rolled along Hwy. 36, and that he made no attempt to stop, the complaint said.
Bursik died at the scene.
Days after the crash, the State Patrol called it a clear case of distracted driving.
Bursik, 54, of Amery, Wis., was the founder and owner of Dragonfly Gardens, a nursery and greenhouse with locations in Amery and Turtle Lake. He also was a biology professor for 20 years at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park. He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and three children.