A pickup truck driver in North Dakota was taking a selfie with his cellphone when he fatally struck a triathlete from behind as she trained on her bicycle in eastern North Dakota and then deleted photos from his phone, according to charges.
This was at least the third suspected instance in an 11-week-span last summer of people dying in collisions in that part of North Dakota while drivers were using their phones. One of the other cases also involved a triathlete killed while bicycling.
Matt K. Strand, 35, of Niagara, N.D., was charged last week in Steele County District Court with felony negligent homicide in the death in mid-August of Lisa Knudson, 54, of Portland, N.D.
Knudson was riding along westbound Hwy. 200, about 12 miles west of her home, and “was legally operating a bicycle on the same road” as Strand, the charging document read.
“Data from Strand’s cellphone reflects that he took a picture of himself at 18:48 [6:48 p.m.] and that he called 911 to report the accident at 18:49 [6:49 p.m.],” a court filing in support of the charge read.
Data from Strand’s vehicle “reflects that he did not brake prior to striking Knudson,” the filing continued.
The pickup not only crossed the fog line to Strand’s right, it also passed over the rumble strips on the shoulder, the filing read.
At one point, Strand explained that his pickup drifted because he was distracted by a vehicle and people on farmland near the crash scene, but authorities said they could not confirm his version of events.
At another point, the court document continued, Strand told a state trooper that he deleted photos from his phone immediately after calling 911.
Strand has been charged by summons and has a June 17 court date. Messages were left with him Tuesday seeking response to the allegations.
In an interview with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead newspaper, Strand’s mother placed some of the blame for the crash on Knudson.
Patsy Strand said Knudson was “at least 25 percent at fault” because she was in the lane, rather than on the shoulder. “What a stupid place to start bicycling,” she said.
Knudson, who graduated from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, and worked for a Grand Forks law firm as a paralegal, competed in four Ironman triathlons and scores of other races beginning when she was in her 20s.
Earlier fatal crashes
On May 27, 2014, a 20-year-old driver was surfing Facebook on her cellphone when she rear-ended an SUV at 85 miles per hour, without braking, along northbound Interstate 29 between Fargo and Grand Forks, killing 89-year-old Phyllis Gordon of Ada, Minn. Abby E. Sletten, of Hatton, N.D., pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a year’s probation.
On June 20, a speeding car fatally struck triathlete David Hawkinson, of West Fargo, as the 50-year-old rode his bike on County Road 81 near Grandin, N.D., between Fargo and Grand Forks. The driver, Justin Jalbert, 27, of Grandin, who was texting at the time, pleaded guilty to felony negligent homicide. His sentence called for him to be incarcerated for six months.
Hawkinson raised a family in Wadena, Minn., before returning to the Fargo area. He counted the 2011 Boston Marathon among his running accomplishments.
On Tuesday, Sens. John Hoeven, R.-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., were among four in the Senate who reintroduced legislation to help crack down on distracted driving. A federal grant program designed to help states combat distracted driving “sat on” nearly $16 million in unused funds last fiscal year, the four senators said in a coordinated statement.
This latest bill seeks to give states “more of the resources they need to educate people and help prevent these kinds of tragic mishaps,” Hoeven said.