FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A Chicago truck driver accused of causing an interstate pileup that killed a good Samaritan during a North Dakota blizzard was sentenced Monday to 10 days in jail.
Nenad Sibinovic was sentenced after pleading guilty in Cass County District Court to a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment.
Authorities said Sibinovic was driving too fast for conditions and his actions led to the death of Lowell Balk. The 50-year-old Walcott man died from injuries he suffered when he got out of his semitrailer to help others and was struck during a chain reaction crash that involved 15 vehicles.
"He caused the events that ended Lowell Balk's life," Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek said outside the courtroom, referring to Sibinovic. "I can't say with 100 percent certainty whether it was his truck that hit Lowell Balk, or he hit another car and that car hit Lowell Balk."
Sibinovic, 29, issued a soft-spoken apology in court.
"I feel very bad about that situation," he told Judge John Irby.
Defense attorney Mark Beauchene told Irby it was a "regrettable situation" but that his client wasn't the only person who made bad decisions that day.
The Highway Patrol should have done more to warn motorists and Balk showed "poor judgment on his part" by getting out of the vehicle, he said.
Authorities said at the time that the Dec. 30, 2010, storm was unexpected and moved quickly into the Red River Valley. One trooper said he issued a ticket to a motorist driving 90 mph about a half-hour before the whiteout. About 100 vehicles were left stranded along Interstate 94 between Fargo and Casselton.
Irby nodded when Van de Streek asked the judge if he remembered the storm.
"I stayed home," Irby said.
Investigators said the black-box recording device from Sibinovic's vehicle showed he was going 50 to 55 mph. Sibinovic told Irby he was going 35 mph.
Beauchene asked for a sentence of five days. He said his client "simply wants to support his family" and was relieved to know the charge should allow him to keep his trucking license.
Irby told Sibinovic the time he serves in jail will fade from memory. "But the events of the day in question are going to be with your forever," the judge added.
Sibinovic left the courthouse through a side elevator and was not available for comment. He was scheduled to begin serving his time immediately.
Van de Streek said he hopes the case deters others from making bad driving decisions.
"It's a terrible tragedy anytime someone dies as a result of excessive speed on the highways," Van de Streek said. "I hope that people get the message to drive more safely."
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