A Minnesota woman has been sentenced to probation and four days in jail for accidentally killing an elderly man with her car while she was allegedly texting.
Susan Ann Russo, 48, of New Prague, struck 79-year-old bus driver Joseph Tikalsky on Oct. 28 as he was picking up a newspaper in front of his house.
The sentence imposed by Le Sueur County Judge Mark Vandelist had been agreed upon as part of a plea deal. In addition to the four days behind bars, Russo must complete 40 hours of community service with Minnesotans for Safe Driving within the next year.
She was also put on probation for two years, during which time she is not allowed to have electronic devices in her car. She was also fined $3,000, which can be used to purchase a billboard advertisement against distracted driving.
In defense of the seemingly light sentence, Vandelist said, "I would bet that everyone in this courtroom has looked away from the road while driving.”
He referred to Russo as “a gifted teacher,” and encouraged her to “use that gift” to become a force for change after the "absolute tragic consequence" of distracted driving.
Tikalsky's youngest son, Greg, told the court: "We have to view distracted driving as we view drunk driving.”
Emma Jean Tikalsky said of her late husband, "I would wish the way he died might be an example to other drivers to forgo electronics and concentrate on driving."
As for Russo, she tearfully read a letter she had written to Tikalsky: "I'm struggling to know how to move on. It is very difficult to comprehend what I did and make sense of it all. ... I will spend my entire life trying to make up for my mistake.”
Driving while texting is outlawed in Minnesota, but felony convictions are rare for texting drivers who injure or kill others. The website Texting and Driving Safety summarizes nationwide texting laws as follows:
“Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 33 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in 7 states (Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia) and school bus drivers are banned from text messaging in 3 states (Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas).”