Truck driver watching Netflix when fatal crash occurred: Charges

(FOX 9)

A truck driver is facing vehicular homicide charges after authorities say he had been watching Netflix before a crash that killed two people in the vehicle in front of him.

Billy Joe Grimes, 55, of Lancing, Tennessee, is charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, and one count of criminal vehicular operation for his actions during the three-vehicle crash.

According to charges, on Aug. 25, 2023, around 1:48 p.m., the Rice County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol were dispatched to a crash on northbound Interstate-35 near milepost 53 in Rice County. 

At the scene, authorities learned a Volvo semi was in the right lane when it struck the rear of a Toyota that then went into the ditch as the Volvo continued forward, striking a trailer being pulled by a Chevrolet truck. Both occupants of the Toyota died from their injuries, despite evidence they had been wearing seat belts.

Authorities say the crash site was before a lane merger for a construction zone on I-35, and the weather at the time was sunny, clear and dry. There was no evidence of a medical condition or impairment that would have contributed to the crash, according to the charges.

When a trooper interviewed Grimes, he denied using his phone, saying it had been downloading an episode of "Rust Valley Restorers" from Netflix that he was planning to watch later, charges said.

Grimes also told the trooper that, "I just didn’t have time to stop, I didn’t have time to react, and I couldn’t stop the truck," while alleging that an abrupt lane change ahead had caused a ripple effect in traffic slowing.

However, authorities were able to review footage from a front-facing camera that recorded audio from inside the cab of the Volvo, during which audio can be heard from "Rust Valley Restorers" playing.

According to charges, troopers concluded that Grimes had been streaming the Netflix show for at least 20 minutes leading up to, and during, the crash.

Several witnesses were interviewed by authorities at the scene, with two saying they did not see brake lights leading up to the impact of the semi Grimes had been driving.

A post-crash vehicle inspection by a Minnesota State Patrol Crash Reconstruction Specialist did not reveal any mechanical defects that would have contributed to the crash.

Grimes has five years of truck driving experience for CDL-required vehicles and was transporting a shipment from Fort Collins, Colorado to Rogers, Minnesota, pulling a trailer loaded with 44,721 lbs. of cargo.