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Trucker reportedly on cell phone charged in fatal Minn. crash at red light

The victim in the fatal crash Tuesday in Lake Elmo, Minn., was Robert J. Bursik Submitted photo

LAKE ELMO, Minn. -- Washington County authorities have filed criminal charges against a semi-truck driver who fatally rear-ended a motorist stopped at a red light Tuesday, Feb. 27,  on Minnesota 36 in Lake Elmo.

According to KSTP-TV, the charges allege that the truck driver was looking at his cellphone for eight seconds preceding the collision when his  eastbound 2016 Freightliner slammed into the back of a 2015 Toyota Scion XB shortly after noon.

Samuel Hicks, 28, of Independence, Wis., made no effort to brake as his truck made impact at 63 mph. KSTP said investigators citing footage from a rear- and front-facing camera in the semi’s cab. Hicks was charged via warrant with one count of criminal vehicular homicide. He wasn’t immediately in custody.

At first, Hicks allegedly told investigators that he observed a green light at Lake Elmo Avenue from a distance but then became distracted by another vehicle. But upon further questioning, he admitted that he was using his phone while texting with his girlfriend and using the Zillow real estate app to look up information about a house.

The Minnesota State Patrol previously said that drugs or alcohol were not believed to be factors in the collision, which left the car’s make and model unrecognizable. The speed limit on that stretch of Minnesota 36 is 65 mph, according to the Minnesota Transportation Department.

The man killed in the collision was an Amery, Wis., businessman and biology instructor at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park.

Robert J. Bursik, 54, was the owner and founder of Dragonfly Gardens, a nursery and greenhouse with locations in Amery and Turtle Lake, Wis. The business specializes in native plants, wetlands, forest wildflowers, annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetables.

Bursik graduated from Marathon, Wis., High School in 1982 and from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1986. He received a master’s degree in botany from the University of Idaho.

“His love for plants and growing them started when he worked for his parent’s business, Bursik’s Greenhouse, in Rib Mountain, Wis.,” according to his obituary. “He was referred to as ‘the boy’ by customers who sought him out for his knowledge, passion, and charm.”

Bursik started his teaching career as a biology instructor in 1991 at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. He taught at several colleges in the metro area, including the College of Visual Arts, Augsburg College and Inver Hills Community College.

Most recently, Bursick taught biology at North Hennepin Community College for more than 20 years, and was an adviser for the college’s Student Environmental Association.

“Rob will be greatly missed by his colleagues, our students and our campus community,” said Barbara McDonald, president of NHCC. “He has touched the lives of so many, and will be remembered for his passion for the sciences, his commitment to students, and his ability to inspire those around him.”

Bursick also taught at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights and served as a consultant in botanical services to government agencies, conservation groups and lake associations.

He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and three children.

Visitation will be from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Williamson-White Funeral Home in Amery, which is handling funeral arrangements. There also will be a celebration of Bursick’s life at Dragonfly Gardens this summer.

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