Driver who killed Fargo cyclist, victim's widow, daughter featured in ESPN special on distracted driving
FARGO -- When an ESPN producer called Katie DeGier to ask if she'd be willing to participate in an "Outside the Lines" special on distracted driving, it was easy to say yes. She wanted to share her family's story in hopes of preventing someone el...
FARGO -- When an ESPN producer called Katie DeGier to ask if she'd be willing to participate in an "Outside the Lines" special on distracted driving, it was easy to say yes. She wanted to share her family's story in hopes of preventing someone else from going through the same thing.
But the 25-year-old Alexandria, Minn., woman said the interview process -- going over the details of her father's death in a texting-and-driving accident, looking through photos of him, thinking about all the things he'd miss -- was difficult.
DeGier's father, David Hawkinson, a 50-year-old Fargo man well-known in Fargo-Moorhead cycling and running circles, was killed in June 2014 when his bicycle was struck from behind by a pickup truck driven by 27-year-old Justin Jalbert of Hunter, N.D.
Court records show he was speeding and texting before hitting Hawkinson on Traill County Road 81 that Saturday morning. A North Dakota Highway Patrol officer smelled alcohol on Jalbert's breath, but a breath test showed a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
DeGier said she doesn't forgive Jalbert for what he did, but she's trying not to hold on to her anger, instead focusing on her message that distracted driving can be fatal.
"If I could save one life, it would be worth it," she said.
Jalbert and Hawkinson's widow, Amy Miller-Hawkinson, also participated in the "Outside the Lines" special, which is available online now and will air at 8 a.m. CST Sunday on ESPN2.
DeGier said while they can't change what happened, they can encourage others to think twice before sending a text, taking a selfie or doing anything else distracting while driving. She said she's changed her own driving habits since her dad's accident.
"There are so many distractions that you don't even think about when you're driving. Handing my kid something -- I never thought of that as a distraction before," she said. "Now I say, 'OK, you guys, Mama's driving. Is it an emergency? Do I need to pull over?'"
"'No? Then it can wait.'"
Behind the wheel
Jalbert pleaded guilty in January to a felony count of negligent homicide and was sentenced to six months in jail, four years of supervised probation and 100 hours of public speaking about the dangers of texting and driving. Besides the ESPN special, he plans to do a school speaking tour in the F-M area, which he's working out with his parole officer.
He said that while he was hesitant to participate in the special, he decided it would be worth the opportunity to warn others that if they aren't careful, they could end up in the same position. Jalbert said although reliving the fatal accident was difficult for him, too, he's glad he did it.
"The more I thought about it, I was like, 'Well, this could reach a much larger audience than I ever hope to on my own, so hopefully it has a positive influence,'" he said. "Even if it only affects 1 percent of the people who watch it, that could still save a couple of lives."
Jalbert, whose father died in 2006, expressed remorse for his actions on Facebook shortly after the accident and during his sentencing hearing, when Hawkinson's family was present. "I remember how terrible it felt, and it makes me feel worse knowing I did that to someone else," he said.
He said since the accident, he's become more aware of the problem and notices when others, including professional truck drivers, text while they're driving. When asked whether he still texts and drives, he said he occasionally gets the urge but will put his phone in his glove box to stop himself from reaching for it.
An online North Dakota court records search shows that Jalbert, whose prior record included more than a dozen moving violations, has received three speeding tickets since he was released from jail in June. The terms of his probation require that he not commit another criminal offense, but his parole officer said speeding is not considered a violation.
"I don't claim to be any sort of role model," Jalbert said, adding that he's not proud of the speeding tickets. "Obviously, I've made my mistakes. I still have my struggles. I just hope that somebody learns something from my situation."