A judge has found that a truck driver — who was searching for an energy drink that had dropped at his feet — took his eyes off the road for at least 16 seconds before his rig slammed into stopped traffic killing two women, one of whom was pregnant.
Trucker Jason Styrbicky was found guilty of three counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of careless driving in the 2010 accident on Interstate 35 in Lakeville, MN.
The convictions carry a recommended sentence of up to 48 months in prison for each death, which in this case would total 12 years, according to a Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune news report.
The judge in the case found that Styrbicky had his eyes off the road for enough time to travel more than a quarter of a mile on the freeway.
By the time Styrbicky found can he’d dropped and looked up, it was too late to stop the truck from plowing into traffic stopped because of road construction.
Rescue efforts to save the two women and the fetus killed in the crash were hampered because another semi hauling 12-million bees was also damaged in the accident. That truck released more than a million bees that stung emergency workers and motorists.
Mark McDonough, the trucker’s attorney, said he doesn’t plan to appeal the conviction but will seek a lesser sentence — possibly as little as probation or a year in county jail — in what he told the Star Tribune was a “profoundly tragic case.”
"I know that Jason is sorry for what happened to these women and their families,” McDonough said. “He certainly never intended to cause anyone any harm."
"We will make a decision on what sentence to seek after reviewing the pre-sentence investigation," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in a statement.
Styrbicky testified in the trial that he did not see warning signs that a construction zone was ahead. The first warning sign was almost a mile before the construction, suggesting that he was not looking at the road for a long while before the crash, the judge in the case said.
In rendering her verdict, Judge, Karen Asphaug said there were indications that Styrbicky might have had his eyes off the road for almost a minute — traveling for about a mile at freeway speeds — before slamming into the stopped vehicles.
The judge also pointed out that Styrbicky's story changed, from initially telling the State Patrol he looked away for 30 seconds or more to testifying during the trial that it was more likely just 6 to 10 seconds.
"The court finds that [Styrbicky's] testimony is not credible and is not supported by other evidence presented at trial," Asphaug concluded. "Defendant was driving his motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner immediately prior to and at the time of the crash."
Killed in the crash were Pamela Brinkhaus, 50, of Elko New Market, MN; Kari Rasmussen, 24, of St. Anthony, MN, and Rasmussen's eight-week-old fetus. Sentencing is set for July 31.