A trucker was texting or using an app when he slammed into a car stopped at a red light Tuesday on a highway in Lake Elmo, instantly killing that driver.
The impact was so violent that officers were unable to determine the make or model of the car, which came to rest against a cable median barrier in the eastbound lanes of Hwy. 36 at Lake Elmo Avenue. The victim inside, Robert J. Bursik, was extracted after it had been towed from the scene, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Washington County District Court.
Truck driver Samuel W. Hicks, 28, of Independence, Wis., was charged with criminal vehicular homicide and operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner in connection with the crash, which occurred at 12:13 p.m.
Hicks made no effort to stop, was going 63 miles per hour and had been on the phone for eight seconds before he struck Bursik’s vehicle, later determined to be a Toyota Scion, the charges said.
According to the charges, Hicks had been driving since 4:45 a.m. and was familiar with the highway as he drove it about once a week.
He told investigators that from a distance he observed a green light at Lake Elmo Avenue. He said he was distracted by another vehicle and turned to look before he plowed into the back of Bursik’s car, pushing the rear end of the Scion as far forward as the driver’s side door.
Hicks later admitted that he was using his phone while texting with his girlfriend and using an app to look up information about a house.
Video from the cab obtained by the State Patrol showed two views, one of Hicks inside the cab and the other of the road ahead. The view from inside the cab showed Hicks driving with his phone in his right hand texting or using an app.
Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry called the fatal wreck “horrific and tragic.”
Bursik, 54, of Amery, Wis., was the founder and owner of Dragonfly Gardens, a nursery and greenhouse at locations in Amery and Turtle Lake.
For the past 20 years, Bursik had been an instructor in the Biology Department at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, where he also was an adviser for the college’s Student Environmental Association.
“He will be remembered for his passion for the sciences, his commitment to students, and his ability to inspire those around him,” said the college’s president, Barbara McDonald.
Bursik previously taught biology at Eastern Washington University and locally taught courses at the College of Visual Arts, Augsburg University and Inver Hills Community College. While teaching at North Hennepin, he also taught at the Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility and was a consultant on botanical services.
Hicks was treated for his injuries at the scene and released.
If convicted, Hicks could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Bursik is survived by his wife, Jessica, and three children.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768