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Texting driver charged in fatal Traill County bicycle crash

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HILLSBORO, N.D. – A 26-year-old man accused of texting while driving was charged Wednesday with felony manslaughter in a Traill County crash that killed a bicyclist in June.

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Justin Jalbert of Hunter was driving a pickup truck south on County Road 81 when the crash happened about 10:40 a.m. June 21, according to court papers.

Jalbert told investigators the bicyclist, 50-year-old David Hawkinson, was stopped along the road about a mile north of Grandin. Jalbert’s truck struck the bicycle from behind, and Hawkinson was thrown into a ditch, court papers said.

Jalbert initially told a trooper with the North Dakota Highway Patrol that he was reaching into the glove box to get a CD when he looked up, saw the bicyclist about 10 yards in front of him and had no time to react. In a later interview with another trooper, Jalbert acknowledged that he was typing a text message on his phone just before the crash, according to court papers.

Jalbert told the patrol he was looking down at his phone and then looked up just before hitting the bicyclist. He said he later deleted his text messages because he was afraid of possible consequences, court papers stated.

Jalbert reported that he was traveling between 55 and 60 mph at the time. After the crash, a nearby Amtrak train stopped, and an engineer and a nurse came to start CPR. Hawkinson, who was wearing a helmet, died at the scene, and Jalbert was not injured, court papers stated.

According to court papers, a trooper smelled alcohol on Jalbert’s breath, and a breath test showed that his blood-alcohol level was below the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Jalbert told the patrol the last time he drank was the night before, court papers stated.

Not long after the crash, Jalbert posted messages on Facebook, apologizing to Hawkinson’s family. Hawkinson, who lived in Fargo, had three children and three grandchildren. He worked at Valley Imports in Fargo and was well-known in the local cycling and running communities.

Reached on his cellphone Wednesday, Jalbert referred questions to his attorney, Kent Marshall. A phone message left for Marshall was not returned.

In North Dakota, Jalbert has a history of driving offenses dating back to 2006, including driving under the influence, speeding and several instances of driving with a suspended license. He has no criminal record in Minnesota.

In a news release Wednesday, Traill County State’s Attorney Stuart Larson said Jalbert had not been arrested and will appear in court at a later date.

A similar crash occurred Friday about 12 miles east of Finley. On North Dakota Highway 200, a pickup truck struck a bicyclist from behind and killed her, the patrol said. Charges against the driver are pending.

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