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Emily Welker, Published May 13 2013

Semi driver to serve two months in jail for fatal crash with motorcycle in Fargo

FARGO – A Long Prairie, Minn., semi driver will serve about two months in jail after pleading guilty Monday to misdemeanor aggravated reckless driving in a June crash in which he hit a motorcycle, killing its 29-year-old driver.

James Toner, 56, was sentenced in Cass County District Court to a one-year sentence with all but 75 days suspended, as part of a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped the original charge of manslaughter, a Class B felony. He was given credit for nine days already served in jail.

Prosecutors also asked Judge Frank Racek to order Toner to one year of supervised probation, which the judge increased to two years, adding that Toner can’t have a commercial driver’s license as part of his probation terms.

Toner admitted in court that he had made an improper right-hand turn June 4 during the morning rush hour that began with his semi heading left across three lanes of traffic at the intersection of 25th Street South and 23rd Avenue.

The maneuver made the semi “a steel wall” in front of Jason Viestenz’s motorcycle, said Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Cherie Clark.

The motorcycle struck the semi, killing Viestenz – who was not wearing a helmet – and injuring his 10-year-old son, Elijah, a passenger who was wearing a helmet.

Tearful family members of Viestenz testified at the hearing about the impact his death has had on their lives over the past 11 months. Cassie Hanson, the mother of the boy hurt in the crash, recalled in court what Elijah Viestenz told her about the last words he shared with his father.

“I remember the last thing he said to me before he put my helmet on,” she recalled her son saying. “He said, ‘If there’s anything you need, squeeze. Squeeze tight and I’ll pull over.’ ”

Toner apologized in court to Viestenz’s family.

“It’s a day that’ll always haunt me the rest of my life,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541