A motorist who spent 10 days in jail for running a stop sign and killing another driver north of the Twin Cities will serve more time behind bars after receiving a traffic ticket in violation of her probation.
District Judge Robert Rancourt on Monday sentenced 47-year-old Heidi Butau to an additional 10 days in jail to be served later and stripped her of her driving privileges on the spot.
But as soon as Butau left the courtroom she got in her car and drove home to Golden Valley. She was promptly arrested that day by police and locked up in the Hennepin County jail ahead of another court appearance where the same judge will decide whether she needs still further punishment for the death of John Ploetz northeast of Cambridge in December 2017.
Pointing to Butau’s “lack of appreciation of the situation,” Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter said her office is now contemplating whether to urge Rancourt to impose the full 90-day jail term that was hanging over Butau’s head while on probation.
Butau was suspected of texting at the time of the deadly collision. However, crucial data from the phone was deleted before it was turned over for a forensic inspection.
Joanne Ploetz, the wife of the 75-year-old man and longtime commander of the American Legion Post in Harris who died in the crash, was one of several Minnesotans who lost loved ones to distracted drivers. She lobbied the Legislature this session to require motorists to use hand-free devices while on their phones. That bill was signed into law on April 12.
Butau’s open defiance Monday of the legal system was evident before she disobeyed the judge and drove from the courthouse, she said.
“Not only did [the judge] talk about her poor past record,” Joanne Ploetz said, “but he also acknowledged that I was in court and the pain I have suffered.”
Ploetz said the judge’s additional sentence prompted Butau to let out an expletive and leave the courtroom before the hearing was over.
Rancourt directed a deputy to find Butau.
“I went after her and brought her back,” said Deputy Mark Stovern. “She was very upset but was compliant.”
Butau has been convicted in Minnesota eight times for speeding, twice for driving with a suspended license, twice for having expired vehicle tabs and once previous to the fatal crash for running a stop sign.
She also has been convicted at least twice for texting while driving, most recently on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis on Nov. 16, 2017, 3½ weeks before the fatal collision.