Dakota County Attorney takes on distracted driving to prevent further tragedies

- A Minnesota woman was apparently on her phone when she blew past a stop sign and broadsided a car, killing another woman. 

A year and a half later, charges have finally come down against the driver, 56-year-old Lori Janine Hoefs of Oronoco, Minn.

Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom told Fox 9 Hoefs was grossly negligent behind the wheel on October 22, 2016 and his office needed time to prove it. Tuesday, Backstrom seemed confident the charges could lead to justice and help put an end to these senseless crashes.

“It’s a serious problem on our roadways, and it’s killing and crippling a lot of people,” Backstrom said.

Distracted driving has troubled Backstrom so much, he’s taken it upon himself to urge the public to “arrive alive” -- even posting his distracted driving PSA on YouTube the same day the charges against Hoefs were filed.

“Distracted driving is the cause of 1 in 4 of the crashes in Minnesota. That’s almost as many--if not more--than impaired driving,” Backstrom shared.

The PSA was posted on YouTube the same day Backstrom’s office charged 56-year-old Hoefs of Oronoco in the death of 78-year-old Brenda Travis.

“[Hoefs] missed several signs indicating she needed to stop at that intersection and blew right through the stop sign and ultimately crashed, resulting in a three-car collision,” Backstrom nodded.

The crash happened back in October 2016 on Highway 56 and County Road 88 in Randolph Township. The impact not only killed Travis, it also seriously injured three others. 

“This woman was talking on her cellphone, not paying attention to her driving and ignored multiple stop signs, Backstrom continued.

According to the criminal complaint, Hoefs told investigators she was unfamiliar with the area and didn’t see the stop sign. She also said she was on her phone with a friend at the time, but had the phone on speakerphone while holding it in her hand. 

“This was gross negligence," Backstrom said. "That means driving with very gross negligence or without even scant care."

To prove Hoefs' level of neglect, Backstrom sent the case back for further investigation when results first made their way to his office last October.  

“Unfortunately, it takes far longer than most people realize," he said. "It takes up to a year to get an investigation like that completed."

Even now, twenty months after the tragedy, Backstrom is hopeful Travis’ family will soon have closure and the case will continue to drive his message home.

“People need to be smart when they use their smartphones in their vehicles. That means using your hands-free settings," Backstrom said. "If they don’t have a hands-free setting, they shouldn’t be talking on a smart phone in their car."

Hoefs is scheduled to make her first court appearance in August. If found guilty, she could face a maximum of four years in prison. 

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