Semi driver accused of watching Netflix on phone prior to fatal crash, say police

In August 2023, Minnesota authorities revealed that a truck driver was engrossed in watching Netflix on his phone when he caused a fatal crash on the interstate, claiming the lives of an Iowa couple.

Billie Joe Grimes, a 55-year-old resident of Lansing, Tennessee, is facing charges of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide. The charges stem from a tragic crash that resulted in the untimely deaths of Matthew Henry Hansen, 57, and Cimberly Ellen Hansen, 56, who hailed from Urbandale, Iowa.

Grimes faces an additional charge of criminal vehicular operation in connection with the deadly crash.

According to Rice County prosecutors, Grimes, an experienced commercial driver with five years of experience, was heading north on Interstate 35 on the afternoon of August 25. As he approached a construction zone with traffic at a standstill, Grimes collided with two vehicles: a Toyota Camry and a Chevrolet pickup truck towing a flatbed trailer.

According to a news release, the crash propelled the Toyota into the ditch, while the semi-truck and pickup truck veered off the road, crashing through a barbed wire fence and coming to a stop near the railroad tracks east of the interstate.

According to a report from KSTP in Minneapolis, the pickup truck and its trailer flipped over onto the train tracks.

The pickup driver sustained only minor injuries, but the Hansens, who were in the Camry, were not as fortunate.

They were both declared deceased at the location.

According to witnesses and investigating troopers, Grimes explained that he briefly diverted his attention from the road and when he looked up, he found the Camry directly in his path. He attributed the incident to the challenging task of maneuvering the heavy load he was transporting, which made it impracticable for him to bring the vehicle to a halt.

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According to a report from KCWI in Des Moines, the cargo in Grimes’ trailer weighed approximately 44,000 pounds.

According to court documents obtained by KSTP, Grimes informed troopers that he observed two lanes of traffic merging right and suspected that a driver had suddenly changed lanes, causing the traffic in front of him to come to a halt.

According to the station, Grimes explained to the troopers that he was unable to stop the truck in time and didn’t have the opportunity to react. He mentioned, “I just didn’t have time to stop. I didn’t have time to react, and I couldn’t stop the truck. I hit him… but it was too late by that time.”

The truck driver claimed that he couldn’t remember if he had applied the brakes before the collision. When questioned, Grimes denied using his phone but mentioned that his phone was downloading an episode of “Rust Valley Restorers” from Netflix, which he intended to watch later.

According to prosecutors, the narrative presented by roadside cameras and Grimes’ dashboard cameras painted a contrasting picture.

According to the findings of a crash reconstructionist, Grimes disregarded five signs along the 5-mile stretch leading up to the crash site. These signs, two of which were equipped with flashing lights, served as warnings for upcoming road construction. They specifically advised drivers to reduce their speed and be ready for traffic merging ahead.

According to a news release, video footage revealed that 10 seconds prior to the accident, traffic in both travel lanes had either slowed down or come to a complete stop. Dash cameras captured no sudden lane changes made by any vehicles ahead of the truck.

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The dashcam audio also revealed that Grimes was streaming his Netflix program at the time of the deadly collision, rather than downloading it.

Grimes failed to stop his truck despite having enough time and space to observe the slowed traffic. As a result, he collided with the Camry and the pickup at full speed.

According to the news release, the reconstructionist discovered that Grimes disregarded the warnings of slow or stopped traffic and continued driving towards the construction zone with his semi’s cruise control set between 66-67 mph. Additionally, there was no evidence to suggest that Grimes applied his brakes before colliding with the victims’ vehicles.

According to KSTP, Grimes is scheduled to appear in court on May 15.

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