A judge in Hennepin County, Minn. sentenced to three years in prison a truck driver who allegedly viewed pornography on his phone in the moments before a fatal 2018 workzone crash that killed an engineering firm employee. The victim, 59-year-old Vernon Hedquist, had been employed by Minneapolis-based engineer WSB & Associates since 2014.
The crash occurred on I-94 near Rogers, Minn. Hedquist, who had previously been employed by the state Dept. of Transportation, was part of a crew working in a closed right lane preparing for drilling that would be needed for other road work
The driver, Tate R. Doom, 47, was behind the wheel of a single-axle Kenworth truck, according to the Minnesota State Patrol report. In front of Doom was a Ford pickup that was hauling a trailer. As the pickup and trailer slowed to about 50 mph for traffic, Doom's truck was traveling at about 70 mph when it struck the trailer. The impact spun the pickup and trailer into the construction lane, the trailer separated from the pickup and hit Hedquist.
State Patrol investigators seized Doom's phone and claimed he was using it to view pornographic videos shortly before the crash. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Tate denied using his phone before the accident, but the State Patrol investigators, after examining Doom's phone, claimed that the time of the last pornographic video viewed on it overlapped with the time of the crash.
In addition to the jail sentence, the state judge also ordered Doom to pay $6,000 in highway patrol fines.
Tiffani Nielson, a member of the Minnesota State Patrol, told reporters at a briefing after the accident that she blamed distracted driving for an increase in workzone fatalities in the state.
Minnesota lawmakers in 2018 passed a law prohibiting drivers from holding their phones while operating motor vehicles.