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Published June 11 2012

Trucker gets 10 days in jail in 100-car I-94 pileup

FARGO – The attorney for a Chicago truck driver who pleaded guilty Monday to causing a crash that killed a man during a 2010 blizzard pileup on Interstate 94 said more could have been done to prevent the crash.

Nenad Sibinovic, 29, the only person charged in the Dec. 30, 2010, pileup that stranded nearly 100 cars in whiteout conditions on I-94 between West Fargo and Casselton, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in Cass County District Court.

Judge John Irby accepted the prosecutor’s recommendation and sentenced Sibinovic to 10 days in jail, one year of unsupervised probation and $500 in fines and fees.

“I feel very bad about that situation,” Sibinovic said before being sentenced for the Class A misdemeanor charge.

Irby told Sibinovic the time served in jail will fade from his memory.

“But the events of the day in question are going to be with you forever,” he said.

Prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek said Sibinovic was driving “much too fast” for the icy roads and whiteout conditions when he caused the crash that led to the death of fellow trucker Lowell Balk, 50, of Walcott, N.D., who died in the hospital four days after the crash.

The case is somewhat unusual because Van de Streek said it’s unclear whether the semi Sibinovic was driving from Drake, N.D., to Highland, Ill., actually hit Balk.

“He caused the events that ended Lowell Balk’s life. 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’s hired attorney, Mark Beauchene, said his client took responsibility for the crash, and that it “simply was just poor judgment” on the part of the young driver who was inexperienced in such weather conditions.

But Beauchene also said more could have been done to prevent the crash.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol could have stationed cars ahead of the pileup to warn incoming drivers of the danger ahead, he said. He also called it poor judgment on Balk’s part to get out of his truck in that scenario. The patrol said Balk had gotten out to help others.

Beauchene told the judge a five-day jail sentence would be “more than enough.”

Van de Streek said that while he doesn’t believe Sibinovic acted maliciously, “I think he was acting recklessly. He should have slowed down.”

Sibinovic was clocked on radar driving 50 to 55 mph about a mile before the pileup, and the semi’s black-box device indicated he also was going that fast at the time of the crash, Van de Streek said. Sibinovic disputed that, saying he believes he was going 35 mph.

The Highway Patrol said 15 vehicles were involved in the series of collisions that eventually killed Balk. Sibinovic told authorities he saw a person standing in the roadway who began to run as he passed by, the patrol’s report states.

Sibinovic initially was charged with reckless driving, but it was changed to reckless endangerment after a recent Supreme Court case made reckless driving harder to prove, Van de Streek said. The charges are both Class A misdemeanors, and it didn’t affect the sentencing recommendation, he said.

The reckless endangerment conviction should allow Sibinovic to keep his license and continue working, Beauchene said.

Van de Streek said he hopes the case sends a message to others to drive more safely.

Sibinovic’s employer, D Line Trucking, and its insurers have taken care of civil responsibilities associated with the case, Beauchene said.

The massive pileup, which grabbed national headlines, started when an empty semi jackknifed across both eastbound lanes. The ensuing series of accidents caused 35 crashes, damaging nearly 50 vehicles, according to Forum archives.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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