Woman Sentenced To Four Days In Prison For Killing 79-Year-Old Man Behind The Wheel

Joseph Tikalsky was going about his normal routine as a school bus driver, on October 28, 2015, in New Prague, Minnesota when he decided to take a short break. Although he was 79-years-old and could have retired long ago, he still drove a school bus and loved the job.

Craig Most, the district’s director of operations, spoke about Joseph’s love for the responsibility.

“He loved those kids. He told me every year he enjoyed it, and he’d keep doing it as long as he enjoyed it.”

It has been a role he enjoyed for 50 years, and each Friday, the jovial driver made his signature announcement, “It’s Friday! Whoopee!”

The Wednesday morning he lost his life was dark and rainy, but the day began like all the others.

The Washington Post shares what happened next in this tragic tale.

“At around 7:35 a.m., he put coffee on. As its aroma filled the house with a promise of warmth in the midst of a Minnesota autumn, Tikalsky walked out to grab a copy of the morning’s newspaper. He crossed the country road to his mailbox. Though it was dark, he had already donned his reflective vest, a highlighter-yellow jacket with reflective white stripes, according to the Star Tribune. Any drivers in the vicinity would easily notice its bright colors and be sure to avoid him. Not Susan Russo.”

Russo, a 48-year-old schoolteacher, did not see Tikalsky because she wasn’t paying attention. Instead, she was preoccupied responding to a text message from her daughter while she was driving down County Road 29. She struck Tikalsky in the road, and all she could recall seeing just before she hit the 79-year-old was a “yellow color blur.” She called 911, but it was too late. Joseph was pronounced dead at the scene.

Seeing as the incident that took his life was so close to Halloween, Tikalsky’s daughter Mary Jo Dorman discovered 40 bags of candy bars that her dad planned to give the kids that Friday as a Halloween treat. She and her two brothers Joe and Greg, as well as five of Tikalsky’s grandchildren, arrived on the bus that Friday morning to hand out the candy to the children, in memory of their father.

A few days later, Russo was charged with reckless driving and misuse of a wireless communication device, both misdemeanors. Russo eventually entered a guilty plea to both charges, yet as a part of the plea deal, the misuse of a wireless communication device charge was dropped. Although she told investigators she had been texting at the time of the accident, a forensic investigation did not uncover any evidence of texting or any phone activity.

Susan Russo later tried to retract the plea on September 30, yet District Judge Mark Vandelist denied this motion. On Monday, Vandelist offered a sentence to Russo that simply makes her conscious of her crime. Russo is to serve 40 hours of community service with Minnesotans for Safe Driving and two years of supervised probation. She must pay a $3,080 fine that will be used in part to pay for a public service announcement about the dangers of texting and driving. The convicted will only serve four days in prison.

Tikalsky’s youngest son, Greg, spoke to urge lawmakers to put harsher punishments in place for those who text while driving.

The Post shares his words.

“As the number of apps on our phones increases, the addiction to reach for the phone is only going to become greater. Our phones have become inseparable from their user. I see an unchecked epidemic. I can’t sit idly.”

The judge in the case addressed Russo while sentencing and also spoke to the general public about this act that has caused so many tragic losses.

“Use that gift that God gave you to educate others about this issue. I would bet that everyone in this courtroom has looked away from the road while driving.”

[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]