It takes two to text and drive

“University of Wisconsin Madison student Megan Mengelt thought it was a compassionate gesture when College of Letters and Science Assistant Dean Tori Richardson reached out to her after Mengelt’s mother was killed by a driver who was drunk and texting,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jim Stingl writes today.

What he never said, however, is that he was the one who was texting with the person who killed her mother.

Now Mengelt is suing, illuminating the other half of the growing texting-while-driving problem: the people with whom the drivers are texting.

It took almost two years for Mengelt to get the police reports that revealed that the dean “helping” her was the one involved in her mother’s death.

The suit says Richardson was negligent in counseling Mengelt and in failing to reveal his connection to Burnside. It also alleges that Mengelt trusted Richardson enough to confide in him about her feelings, but also to reveal information sought by Richardson about the ongoing criminal case against Burnside, as well as the wrongful death suit the family planned.

In depositions, Burnside and Richardson have said they did not discuss these matters, though they remained in touch after the accident. The civil suit against Burnside is scheduled for trial in July.

Richardson did not return my telephone call or email seeking his side of the story.

UW-Madison released a statement saying Richardson received a 30-day unpaid suspension beginning last May. He is under extra supervision as he continues advising students. By law, the state will defend him in this lawsuit.

Maureen Mengelt was killed in 2013 while jogging in Sun Prairie, Wis. Burnside, a bishop, was on his way to church to deliver a sermon. He was drunk and exchanging flirtatious messages with Richardson, whom he’d met at a party.

  • Matt Black
    • Al

      I think going after the other person, in this case, was in response to the clear conflict of interest in trying to counsel the victim’s daughter when Richardson knew of the connection.

    • Rob

      It wouldn’t be hard at all to ask a person who’s texting you whether they are driving. If they admit that they are, you can reply that you won’t continue texting until they get off the road.

      You can also tell your colleagues, friends and rellies, just as I have, that you expect them not to text and drive, and that if they choose to do so, they should refrain from sending texts to you while they are driving.

    • Dan

      If someone texts me while I’m driving, they are not getting a response until I’m done driving. Maybe a hands-free call back, but only in special cases. No reason for me to assume that if I text someone, and they’re driving, that they’re going to endanger everyone around them by texting me back right then and there. One of the convenient things about texting is that it doesn’t require an immediate response like answering a call does.

      • jwest8

        Answering a call does NOT require an immediate response. That’s why god invented voicemail.

        • Dan

          My meaning was something a little different.

          Of course you’re not required to answer every phone call, voicemail is obvious. But to have a coherent phone conversation, immediate (somewhat) responses are required to keep the conversation going. You can’t just let the other person talk, then pause for like 15 minutes before you say something back.

          A text message conversation doesn’t lose much with minutes long (or longer) gaps between replies.

          My meaning was, an advantage of texting vs. voice conversation is that immediate responsiveness isn’t all that important when texting.

          Complex ideas OTOH take a lot longer to hash out over text/email than a phone or in-person conversation. I would not say a game of phone-tag, even with voicemails, is as effective as an actual live phone conversation for communication.

  • John

    What Richardson did was pretty shady, at least in terms of not revealing his (her? – can’t tell by first name) involvement (and potential conflict of interest). Reaching out may have been out of guilt, but no, it does not take two to text and drive – it takes one (unless both people are driving, then it’s two).

    Richardson did not take his eyes off the road to text. He may or may not have known that Burnside was driving while texting. Nevertheless, Burnside is 100% responsible for the death of Mengelt. Burnside chose to take his eyes off the road and text, because whatever exchange was happening was too important to wait, but not important enough to pull over to have.

    If I suspect someone may be texting me while driving, I will usually admonish them in a text, and stop responding until I think they’re back in park, but responsibility for their actions lies solely on them. I have no way of knowing what someone is doing when I send them a text.

    I’ll also send texts to my wife, even when I know she’s driving (and vice versa), expecting that she won’t read/respond until she’s done driving. things like “can you grab eggs too, since you’re on your way to the store?”

    • Jeff C.

      Tori is a man, as is Bruce Burnside, the drunk Lutheran bishop he was texting. Tori Richardson tried to find out of Bruce was drunk while he was driving. “You will need to be scolded if this is the case,” Richardson texted.

    • Rob

      I was with you until you said you text your wife when you know she’s driving. If your wife is as addicted to her phone as most other people are to theirs, she’s going to read it while driving – and she’s going to respond while driving.

      • Leroy

        I text my wife when I know she is driving, and she does the same when I’m driving. That in itself isn’t a bad thing because we both refuse to look at our phones when we drive, and know that the messages will be seen / responded to once we reach our destinations.

        • Rob

          seriously, it’s good to know there are a few folks out there who don’t have a pavlovian relationship to their phones. +1

      • John

        she doesn’t read them until she’s where she’s going. If she did, I wouldn’t send them.

        • Rob

          sounds like you have a wonderfully trusting relationship! : )

  • Rob

    Richardson just made my “Top 10 Tools of 2016” list, along with Denny Hastert.

  • Dan

    Same tragic case as the roadside memorial removal story you blogged about