Ran stop sign, killed motorist, gets 10-day sentence

It’s asking a lot to judge sentences handed in a courtroom at which those doing the judging aren’t present, but a sentence handed down in a texting and driving case in Chisago County is likely to stir the debate over how serious the system is on cracking down the practice.

Heidi L. Butau, 45, of Braham, Minn., has texted while driving before, the Star Tribune says. The last time she allegedly did, she ran a stop sign and slammed into a car, driven by John C. Ploetz, 75, of Harris, Minn. He died.

She offered to turn her cellphone in at the scene of the crash, but the deputy sheriff declined to take it, saying an investigator would get it later.

When authorities finally inspected it, all the messages on the phone from the day it was finally turned in were erased. So there was no way to prove whether she was distracted at the time she ran the stop sign.

She was given a 90-day sentence for a misdemeanor traffic violation instead, and the judge said she’ll serve only 10 days, according to the paper.

Butau has been convicted in Minnesota eight times for speeding, twice for driving with a suspended license, twice for having expired vehicle tabs and once for running a stop sign. Her license was valid on the day of the crash, the state Department of Public Safety said.

She also has been convicted at least twice for texting while driving, most recently on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis on Nov. 16, 3½ weeks before the fatal collision.

In an instant, you took this wonderful man from all of us,” the victim’s widow, Joanne Ploetz, said during sentencing. “I am not sure what was so much more important than seeing the stop sign. … I am not sure how many more things were more important than paying attention to your driving in all of your previous arrests. … I pray that you have it in you to make changes in your life so you no longer cause this lasting, horrific change in others’ lives.”

Neither Butau nor her attorney responded to a request for comment.

In May, the Minnesota Legislature “gutted” bills toughening sentences for texting and driving. A watered-down version fell victim to a veto by Gov. Mark Dayton.