A semitrailer truck driver who was allegedly looking at his phone when he rear-ended and killed a motorist in Lake Elmo in February pleaded not guilty to felony charges of criminal vehicular homicide.
Samuel Hicks, 28, of Independence, Wis., entered the plea during a hearing Wednesday in Washington County District Court. His trial is scheduled for April.
Hicks was driving east on Hwy. 36 at 12:13 p.m. Feb. 27 and was going 63 miles per hour when he slammed into the back of Robert Bursik’s Toyota Scion. Hicks had been on his smartphone texting or using an app in the eight seconds before the fatal wreck, according to charges.
Bursik, 54, of Amery, Wis., was the founder and owner of Dragonfly Gardens, a nursery and greenhouse at locations in Amery and Turtle Lake. He also was a biology professor at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park.
Bursik, a married father of three children, died at the scene of the crash, which at the time authorities called “horrific and tragic.”
According to the criminal complaint, Hicks originally said he had seen a green light at Lake Elmo Avenue as he approached from a distance. 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. The video showed a split screen, one showing the road ahead and the other showing the inside of Hicks’ cab. The interior view showed Hicks holding a phone in his right hand as he rolled along Hwy. 36, and that he made no attempt to stop, the complaint said.
Days after the crash, the State Patrol called the crash a clear case of distracted driving.