A teenage driver has a chance to avoid prison for killing a motorist and his 10-year-old daughter when she ran a red light while texting — after defying the pleas of a passenger to pay attention — and rammed her pickup truck into a van in Sherburne County.
Carlee R. Bollig, 17, of Little Falls, Minn., pleaded guilty last week to two counts of criminal-vehicular homicide in the July 21 crash that killed Charles P. Maurer, 54, of Becker, and his daughter Cassy.
Once authorities had exposed as a lie the initial explanation that her boyfriend had been driving, Bollig was charged by juvenile petition in October. She will be sentenced on March 4.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Samuel Wertheimer said this week that he’s waiting for county probation officials to prepare a presentencing report before revealing “any thoughts on what an appropriate sentence would be.”
Bollig’s attorney said Wednesday that he anticipates that his client will be given a prison sentence of four to five years, but the term will be stayed because she was charged as a juvenile and will remain stayed as long as she follows all the terms of her “closely supervised” probation.
“Prison will be hanging over her head” until she is 21, said defense attorney Tom Richards. “The critical part is the next [few] years for her. Obviously, she is distraught and very sorry for the family.”
Terms of her probation will include a host of requirements, Richards said, including continuing her work toward high school graduation, undergoing psychological and substance-abuse assessments and “maybe vocational training, things to help her become a viable member of society.”
Richards said Bollig chose to plead guilty, in part, because “she did not want to force the family to go through a trial. That was a big incentive to make things right.”
Bollig and three others in her pickup, all friends from Little Falls, were injured but survived: Bollig’s boyfriend, Deven M. Garlock, 19; George E. Saldana, 18, and Caysi J. Jaronske, 17. Two others in the van survived the collision at Hwy. 10 and County Road 11, between Becker and Big Lake: Cassy’s sister Alenita, 16, and friend Alora K. Nelson, 15, of Becker.
Jaronske told investigators that she implored Bollig on at least “eight or nine occasions” since they left St. Cloud to stop texting while driving, according to the allegations spelled out in a juvenile petition. Bollig, however, “refused to comply,” the petition read.
In response to Jaronske’s pleas, Bollig yelled and said she “didn’t care if she crashed,” and eventually she told her friend to “f — off,” according to a search warrant affidavit filed in court three weeks after the crash. Just as the pickup was about to enter the intersection, the charging petition read, Jaronske said, someone yelled, “Red light, red light!”
Bollig never applied the brakes, investigators determined, and the pickup kept going on eastbound Hwy. 10 and it T-boned the van on the driver’s side as it traveled north on County Road 11.
Analysis of Bollig’s cellphone found that she sent and received “multiple electronic messages” on Facebook for eight minutes leading up to the crash, the complaint read.
Charles Maurer was pronounced dead that night. Cassy, who would have been a fifth-grader at Becker School, died 10 days later.
In 2014 in Minnesota, 61 deaths and more than 7,000 injuries were attributed to either driver inattention or distraction, according to the state Department of Public Safety. Over the past five years, 19 percent of all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the state were distraction-related, the agency added.
A $225 increase in the fine for texting while driving went into effect in Minnesota in August. The increase is in addition to the current $50 fine and applies to second and subsequent convictions. According to the state, 3,200 texting-while-driving citations were issued in 2014, a 278 percent jump since 2010.