(KMSP) — A Wisconsin man is at a place in his life very few people imagine themselves and he blames it on a seemingly harmless Facebook post.
Frank Rychtik was driving a dump truck on Interstate 90 near La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2014 when his phone signaled the arrival of a Facebook post.
“I was always on my phone,” he said. “Life can change in that second that it takes you to look at your phone.”
By the time his eyes returned to the road, an innocent life was destroyed.
“You know I just wish I could go back and re-wake up that morning and not get into that truck,” he said.
Traffic had stopped and the dump truck he was driving ran right over the top of the car in front of him.
The two vehicles continued as one unit smashing into others before coming to rest in the median and bursting into flames.
“I seen there was something on fire, seen there was part of a car under the truck,” he remembered.
Rychtik, who is a volunteer fire fighter and trained in first aid, said there was nothing he could do to help the young driver trapped in the horrific wreckage.
Jason Songer, of La Crescent, Minnesota was just 29, and a newlywed.
He and his wife, Felicia, had traveled the world together in search of adventure.
He posted A YouTube video hoping to raise money to chase a dream. “I’d like to go to helicopter school in Hawaii to fly tours commercially,” he said in the video.
The obituary in the paper described Songer’s passions; a love of music and playing guitar.
The day after he was killed Felicia discovered she was pregnant. She said Shelby, her daughter, has her daddy’s eyes.
“If I could exchange my life for your loss I would,” said Rychtik.
Rychtik has a lot of time to think about what he did. He’s currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in Wisconsin.
He pleaded “no contest” to killing Songer and seriously injuring two other drivers.
“I didn’t intend to cause any harm that day,” Rychtik said.
Two very preventable actions triggered the terrible crash. The night before it happened, Rychtik got drunk. The next morning, when he glanced down to check Facebook on his phone, his blood alcohol level was still more than .04.
When asked which of the two was more likely to cause the accident he said, “I feel the cell phone and the inattentive driving was more responsible for the crash than anything.”
He traveled that stretch of road many times a day, it was boringly familiar, traffic had always flowed freely and was comfortable looking at his phone.
“I never thought there’d be a problem,” he said.
It’s those things people don’t expect that turn life upside down.
In 2008, Rychtik and his wife, Jill, were out for an afternoon drive in their Dodge Dakota.
They hit a patch of ice and spun into the path of another pickup truck.
Jill was pronounced dead at the scene. “And I pretty much resorted to drinking,” he said
The bottle was his escape from that pain.
He made a living as a truck driver, but says he never drank on the job. He saved his binges for the end of the work day.
“I guess what you would say is a functioning drunk,” Rychtik said.
He doesn’t want anyone’s sympathy, just drivers’ attention.
If you drink, don’t drive. And, forget the phone, keep your eyes on the road.
It could happen to anyone, Rychtik said, offering apologies to a wife and a little girl who will never know her father.
“And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what I did to you and what pain I’ve caused you,” he said.
The Fox 9 Investigators did reach out to the Songer family, but they declined an interview at this time.
The Fox 9 Investigators originally contacted Rychtik last December when working on a story about commercial vehicle drivers using their phones while driving. Rychtik’s attorney advised him not to do an interview then because he was in the middle of the appeals process regarding his case. After that came to a close, Rychtik wrote a letter to the Fox 9 Investigators asking if he could speak on camera about the dangers of distracted driving.
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