Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A distracted driver who caused the death of two women and an unborn child will go to jail for only one year.
The crash happened in May of 2010 on Interstate 35 near Lakeville. A semi truck slammed into two cars, which were crushed between the semi and another truck that was hauling millions of bees. The bees were released on scene, which made the rescue efforts more difficult.
Jason Styrbicky took his eyes off the road for at least 16 seconds. He said he was trying to reach for an energy drink.
Twenty-four-year-old Kari Rasmussen, who was eight-weeks pregnant, and 50-year-old Pamela Brinkhaus, died in the accident.
Prosecutors were asking for a sentence of four and a half years.
But in the end, the judge cited Styrbicky’s sincere remorse for sentencing him to a year of work release in the Dakota County Jail.
Styrbicky said nothing as he entered the courthouse and waited for his family members before going into the courtroom. The family of Kari Rasmussen asked the judge to not send Strybicky to prison.
In a letter, the family said the tragedy was an accident and not something Styrbicky intended. But the prosecutor argued Styrbicky deserved prison, pointing to the court finding that he had an eye off the interstate for at least 16 seconds.
“He was a driver of a commercial vehicle who was not watching the road for a considerable period of time,” County Attorney Jim Backstrom said.
Pam Brinkhaus’s sister asked the judge, in a letter, to sentence Styrbicky to prison. After the sentencing, Brinkhaus’s husband Todd said he is satisfied with the sentence, which is a year of work release in the Dakota County Jail and 10 years probation.
Todd Brinkhaus said he just hopes the case sends a message about distracted driving.
“I believe he is remorseful,” he said. “It wasn’t something like they said in the courtroom, that he planned to do this. Anybody planning with a cell phone or texting could be in the same position.”
Backstrom agreed, saying he hopes this case raises awareness of the issue.
“It is a significant concern — it causes a lot of crashes. It causes a lot of death and it’s something that we, as drivers, all need to be responsible for,” he said.
Styrbicky was taken into custody at the end of the hearing.
There was testimony that he suffers from depression and possibly post-traumatic stress, as a result of the crash he caused. With good behavior he could be out in eight months.