Minnesota family fights for stricter distracted driving laws at start of legislative session

After losing her daughter in a distracted driving crash, Karen Altman was determined to make change on the first day of the legislative session at the Minnesota Capitol.

Her family is seeking justice for Katie Burkey by pushing for stricter distracted driving laws.

“I really want this to be her legacy. She had so much to offer this world, and if that’s what it ends up being, she’s going to be instrumental in helping other families. I really believe that,” Altman said.

In September 2017, Katie Burkey had just graduated from college when she was killed on Highway 169. An overweight semi dumper plowed into her small sedan at more than 60 mph in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

The trucker behind the wheel, Jon Lindeman of North Branch, recently pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of careless driving, admitting in court that he was operating at an unsafe speed for the conditions.

He was sentenced to 90 days in the Hennepin County Workhouse and fined $1,000.

“It’s certainly insulting. Clearly nothing would be enough; 10 years wouldn’t be enough,” Altman said.

After rallying on the Capitol grounds last year, Altman and other supporters are now throwing their weight behind legislation to toughen the state’s distracted driving laws.

Republican Senator David Osmek proposed one of the first bills of the new session, a measure that would make the penalties for causing serious crashes while on an electronic device equal to those for drunk driving.

“At least law enforcement can use it as another weapon that if you do this and you are using a device - not in the hands-free setting - you will go to jail for a long time,” Sen. Osmek said.

Karen Altman calls it a necessary first step.

“It’s getting out of control. When you’re behind the wheel of something that has the ability to kill another human, you need to be fully paying attention to what you’re doing.”