Samuel Hicks thought it would be OK to sneak a peek at a message on his cellphone from his girlfriend while driving his semitrailer truck on Hwy. 36 in Lake Elmo. Won’t take long, he thought.
Eight seconds later, Hicks, texting or using an app with his phone in his right hand, slammed into the back of a Toyota Scion stopped at a red light at Lake Elmo Avenue, killing the driver instantly. The impact was so violent that it took first responders hours to extract Robert J. Bursik, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
“I play that moment in my head multiple times a day,” Hicks says in “Eight Seconds: One Fatal Distraction,” a video released Thursday by the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) to underscore the dangers of distracted driving.
“I can’t say I’m sorry enough. I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could change the events.”
Hicks was sentenced to a year in jail and 10 years of supervised probation after pleading guilty to criminal vehicular homicide. He also was ordered to perform 60 hours of community service and work with the DPS on educational videos.
Texting while driving became illegal in Minnesota in 2008. Legislators last year strengthened the law, prohibiting holding a phone while behind the wheel and raising fines for repeat offenders. More than 20,800 drivers have been cited under the hands-free law since it went into effect Aug. 1, 2019, according to the DPS.
Distracted driving so far this year has contributed to 25 deaths on state roads and is one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities.
“Eight Seconds” includes Hicks’ first public comments since the fatal crash just after noon on Feb. 27, 2018. The video shows footage from the truck cabin’s camera of Hicks manipulating his phone in the seconds before impact, a view of the road ahead and the truck ramming the back of Bursik’s car at 63 mph. The truck wound up on top of the car and pushed it through the intersection.
Hicks, now 30, says he ran back to Bursik’s car but knew it was too late.
“From the time I looked down at my phone to the time I looked up, eight seconds had passed. I never realized how far you travel in eight seconds,” says Hicks in the video, dressed in his jail jumpsuit. “It’s heartbreaking … to know that I caused that.”
Bursik, 54, of Amery, Wis., was the founder and owner of Dragonfly Gardens, a nursery and greenhouse with locations in Amery and Turtle Lake, Wis. He was a popular biology instructor at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, where he also advised the college’s Student Environmental Association.
Bursik’s death meant he missed out on his daughter’s wedding, his son’s college graduation and becoming a grandfather, and left his youngest son, Ian, now 6, without a father, says his widow, Jessica, in the video.
“He missed out simply on somebody’s poor choice,” she says. “It’s been difficult.”
Hicks, of Independence, Wis., a single dad with two children, says in the video that checking one text has led to a life of regret, remorse and sadness. He warns that it can happen to anybody who chooses to drive while distracted.
“I don’t think drivers actually realize how long they are looking at their phone, not paying attention to the road,” he says. “You definitely don’t want to be that person who takes somebody else’s life.”