Charges: Semi driver looking at Zillow during fatal Hwy 36 crash

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Photo Courtesy: Washington County Jail

A semi driver who was allegedly looking up houses on his phone while driving has been charged in a fatal crash on Highway 26 in Lake Elmo, Minnesota Tuesday evening. 

At 12:13 p.m., Samuel Hicks, 28, of Independence, Wisconsin was driving eastbound on Highway 36 near Lake Elmo Avenue when his semi slammed into a Toyota Scion that was stopped at a red light. 

According to the criminal complaint, the Toyota was so severely damaged that officers were initially unable to determine the make or model of the vehicle. 

“The car’s rear end was completely pushed in, almost up to the driver’s side door,” the charges say. 

The driver, identified as Robert Bursik, 54, of Amery, Wisconsin, was found deceased inside the vehicle. 

Hicks was treated at the scene and released. He initially told investigators he thought the light was green, got distracted by another vehicle and when he looked back at the road, he struck Bursik’s car. 

Hicks eventually admitted to using his cell phone at the time of the crash. He told police he had been texting with his girlfriend on and off while driving down the highway. They had been talking about a looking at a house, so while driving, he looked at a house on the Zillow application on his phone. 

Video footage from the semi showed Hicks looking down at his cell phone when he hit Bursik’s car. The footage also revealed Hicks made no effort to break and struck the car at 63 miles per hour. 

The video shows Bursik’s car was completely stopped at a red light with the brake lights clearly illuminated at the time of the crash. 

Hicks is charged with criminal vehicular homicide. He is not in custody at this time.  

Bursik was a biology professor and owner of Dragonfly Gardens, a retail greenhouse business. He served as a biology instructor at North Hennepin Community College. 

"Rob will be greatly missed by his colleagues, our students, and our campus community," Barbara McDonald, president of North Hennepin Community College, said in a statement. "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."