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Semi Driver In Fatal Crash Was On Cellphone, Charges Allege

LAKE ELMO, Minn. (WCCO) -- The Minnesota State Patrol Thursday mounted a passionate offensive against distracted driving after the death Tuesday of an Amery, Wisconsin, man who was killed by a tractor trailer driver who was on his cellphone.

The horrific images of the crash show the crumpled car of 54-year-old Robert Bursick of Amery on Highway 36 Tuesday.

oak park heights crash
(credit: Curtiss Christiansen)

The driver of the tractor trailer – 28-year-old Samuel Hicks of Independence, Wisconsin -- has been charged with one count of criminal vehicular homicide.

The accident occurred in the eastbound lanes of Highway 36 at Lake Elmo just after noon on Tuesday. The collision was so severe that first responders could not determine the make or model of victim Robert Bursick's car.

In a rare display of emotion, the head of the Minnesota State Patrol called for an all-out campaign against distracted driving.

"Enough is enough. We see it too often, we see it too regularly and Tuesday was another example," Col. Matt Langer said.

Bursick was a professor at North Hennepin Community College. The school's president released a statement saying in part, "Rob will be greatly missed. He has touched the lives of so many."

Bursick's final moments are captured in video from the inside and outside of the cab of the truck. Court documents say the video shows Hicks looking down at his phone for a full eight seconds. Hicks admitted to the State Patrol he was driving 63 miles an hour.

"I have seen the video. It's horrific and it is difficult to dispute what occurred," Langer said.

The State Patrol said that in those eight seconds Hicks would have traveled more than 700 feet, or more than two football fields.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety said distracted driving in Minnesota contributes to one in four crashes and an average of 65 deaths and 215 serious injuries every year.

"Distracted driving is no different than drinking and driving. That driver makes the choice," Assistant Washington County Attorney Siv Yurichuk said.

The Washington County Attorney Pete Orput says he is already planning to use this case as an example when he and other county attorneys continue to fight for tougher laws and penalties for distracted driving at the Minnesota Legislature.

Bursick was also the owner of Dragonfly Gardens Nursey in Amery and Turtle Lake.

After a warrant was issued, Hicks surrendered Thursday afternoon at the Washington County Jail.

If convicted in the case he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

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