A trucker who allegedly was using his smartphone when he hit and killed another driver last week on Hwy. 36 in Lake Elmo still has driving privileges even though prosecutors asked a judge to take them away.
Samuel Hicks, 28, of Independence, Wis., was arraigned on charges of criminal vehicular homicide on Friday in Washington County District Court.
He was released on bail with conditions that he not contact the family of Robert J. Bursik, the motorist who was killed Feb. 27 when Hicks’ semitrailer truck slammed into the back of Bursik’s car as it was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Hwy. 36 and Lake Elmo Avenue.
Hicks signed a waiver of extradition and agreed to obey all traffic laws in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
But Judge John Hoffman said Hicks has a valid driver’s license and therefore denied prosecutors’ request to not allow him to drive personally or commercially while out on $20,000 bail.
“We feel that is inappropriate given the offense and that somebody lost their life,” said Washington County Attorney Siv Yurichuk. “We disagree.”
Hicks’ attorney, Earl Gray, said it was the right decision and that restricting driving privileges generally is not part of conditions for release on bail.
“If a government department wants to take away his license, they can begin the proceedings,” he said Tuesday.
Hicks was driving east on Hwy. 36 about 12:13 p.m. and was going 63 miles per hour when he rear-ended 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 filed last week.
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. Hicks later admitted he had been texting his girlfriend and using an app to check information about a house, the criminal complaint said.
A camera inside Hicks’ cab recorded the wreck, which the State Patrol called a clear case of distracted driving.
“Make no mistake about it, we believe this crash was caused because the driver of the semi was paying attention to his phone, looking at his phone rather than driving,” Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol said last week during a news conference.
The video obtained by the patrol had 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, the complaint said.
Langer said the “horrific” video shows Hicks traveled 740 feet and made no effort to avoid the collision, which was so violent that the rear end of Bursik’s car was pushed as far forward as the driver’s side door. The wreckage was so bad that it took hours to cut the Scion apart and get Bursik out.
Bursik, 54, was a professor in the Biology Department at North Hennepin Community College and owner of Dragonfly Gardens in his hometown of Amery, Wis. He was married and the father of three children.
Asked if his client had any remorse, Gray said he could not comment. “That is confidential,” he said.
Hicks has no criminal record. If convicted, he could get up to four years in prison, according to state sentencing guidelines.
He is due back in court April 19.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768