MINNNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Distracted driving may be to blame for an accident that killed a beloved school bus driver near New Prague.
The LeSueur County Sheriff’s Office says 79-year-old Joe Tikalsky was collecting his morning newspaper from a roadside mailbox Wednesday in Lanesburgh Township, when a woman driving down County Road 29 hit him. He was killed instantly.
Joe’s wife, Emmy, knew something was wrong when she overslept Wednesday morning. Her husband always woke her up.
“I looked at my clock and it said 8:15, and I thought, ‘That’s very odd. He didn’t wake me today,'” Emmy said. “Then I looked out the window and I saw rescue vehicles on our corner.”
Deputies say the driver was 47-year-old Susan Ann Russo, of New Prague. They believe distracted driving may have played a role.
“I pray for her too because her life will never be the same,” Emmy said. “And ours won’t either, but in a different way.”
The Tikalskys were married for 53 years, and they took all of their kids and grandkids on a week-long cruise for their 50th anniversary.
“He said, ‘This was the best trip I have ever been on because it was our family,'” Emmy said.
Joe’s son, Greg Tikalsky, is a teacher and wrestling coach at New Prague High School. He says his dad was a popular bus driver because he was playful and kind.
“He’d pick apples from his tree and give those to the kids,” Greg said. “He would bring in candy bars or pumpkins. It was like a … free produce market on the bus!”
Joe’s daughter, Mary Joe Dorman, found a big stash of Halloween candy in her dad’s bedroom, and believes he intended to hand it out to students Friday.
“And so we called the school district to just say, ‘Could we ride on our Dad’s bus route one last time to give these to the kids tomorrow?'” Dorman said. “We’re going to end his bus route with us being the last ones on it.”
The LeSueur County Sheriff’s Office says it was dark and rainy at the time of the crash, and that they are reviewing the driver’s cell phone records.
Russo has not been arrested, but she could be charged once the investigation is complete.