Widow angry about what she views as unjust
by Dennis Dalman
Feelings of profound loss and unrelieved grief keep sneaking up on Jodi Rajkowski of St. Joseph.
Some days are better than others, but too often — out of the blue — the reality that her husband is really gone hits her again, like a blow that knocks the wind out of her.
Those feelings are made even worse by the keen pangs of injustice she feels about the death of her husband and his co-worker. On October 13, 2011, Ron Rajkowski, 44; and Craig Carlson, 47; were working in an area just off of Interstate 35 W in Burnsville. About 40 feet from the edge of the highway, they were looking for a manhole that had been installed earlier. At 12:30 p.m. a red sports car left the road and slammed into the two men. Rajkowski died shortly after arriving at the hospital. His friend and co-worker was killed instantly.
The fatal accident was later ruled “accidental,” and the driver — 22-year-old Kirk Deamos of Raymore, Missouri — was charged with one misdemeanor count of careless driving. If convicted in Dakota County, where the fatal incident occurred, Deamos could face a fine of from $300-$1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 90 days.
Right after the accident, Deamos told investigators that he had overcorrected his car, causing it to veer from the highway at that area, striking the victims. When entering the work zone, Deamos was reaching to take his car off cruise-control and looked down to change it, he later told law officers. He had just purchased the sports car three days previously. That entire stretch of 35 W was a work zone, complete with concrete barriers. However, the area where Rajowski and Carlson were working was not marked off as a work zone — a fact that angers both men’s widows.
At the time of the incident, Deamos was driving from Missouri to St. Joseph to visit a friend going to college there. On the way, he was issued a speeding ticket in Iowa, Rajkowski said.
Rajkowski said, in her opinion, Deamos should have been charged with something far more serious. She noted the case of a semi-truck driver who, while reaching down to get an energy drink in his cab, took his eyes off of the road long enough to run into two women. Both were killed. He was later sentenced in Dakota County Court to a term of 12-14 years in prison for three counts of criminal vehicular homicide. Why would one driver in Dakota County get a sentence that tough and another driver, apparently also distracted, get a sentence so light in the same county?, Rajkowski keeps wondering.
She has amassed stacks of documentation about the incident that killed her husband. The documents include cell-phone and text-message records, transcripts of interviews and other relevant data retrieved from law enforcement and other agencies.
She said she is convinced that the State Patrol and others at the accident scene did not do a thorough job in their investigations. When two men are killed by an out-of-control vehicle, such a tragedy and its cause should not be treated without an utterly thorough investigation, said Rajkowski. For one thing, she thinks the driver of the sports car should have been subjected to a test for chemicals in his blood rather than just a blood test for alcohol. Not that Rajkowski has accused Deamos of chemical intoxication, but she emphasized that kind of test should have been standard procedure in a case that horrific. Deamos was found to have no alcohol in his blood at the time of the incident. Investigators told Rajkowski they had no probable cause to test him for drugs.
Judging by transcripts, Rajkowski also believes law enforcement did not ask tough questions of the driver, taking him all too willingly at his word. For example, Rajkowski has information that Deamos bought a headset for music at a Target store in Lakeville just seven minutes before the accident. She keeps wondering if that headset or some other factor might have caused inattentive driving that led to the car leaving the highway. Rajkowski admits she cannot prove any of her theories, but all of the “what ifs” do — she said — weigh heavily on her mind. She and Deb Carlson of Ramsey, the widow of Craig, both maintain an injustice was done in the case.
“This could happen to anybody,” Rajkowski said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be living through something like this. In a blink of an eye, your life can be drastically changed.”
On July 25, Deamos pleaded not guilty in Dakota County Court to the charge of careless driving. A pre-trial hearing is set for Sept. 19.
Some months ago, Rajkowski has met with officials in Dakota County. She was not satisfied with the answers to her questions. Officials there told her they are sorry but there is nothing more serious than a misdemeanor they could charge the driver with. Rajkowski said she had the distinct impression they were brushing off the incident and sweeping it under a rug.
Rajkowski and Carlson have become friends since their husbands died. They are currently working hard to strengthen the laws at work zones and for distracted driving in general.
“People have got to slow down and start paying attention,” Rajkowski said. “We need the laws changed, and we need the speed limits lowered in work zones. And we need a much more strict punishment if a worker is hit or killed. I lost a husband, my children lost a father and many other people lost a friend when Ron died. We had our whole lives ahead of us. We had so many plans from our 16 years together about our future with the kids. All those dreams we had together are gone.”
Recently, Rajkowski and her two boys — Blake,9; and Chase, 6 — enjoyed a weekend vacation in Duluth — a place the family loved to visit when Ron was alive.
“We needed time away,” Rajkowski said. “We did some cruises, sightseeing, a carriage ride, took the pizza train and a lake walk. We had a good time. Ron and I would go there every other year or so. We always loved Duluth.”
Rajkowski said she is starting to get more used to be being alone, thanks in huge part to the moral support she has been receiving — and still receives.
But there are times when Ron’s haunting absence hurts them all with all of the initial shock and pain, like when Blake made his First Communion in April and like when they celebrated his ninth birthday party July 15.
“The boys miss their dad so much,” she said. “They keep asking if the guy who was driving that car will go to jail. It’s a shame. It’s just a rotten shame.”