FINLEY —Lee Karaim held a picture of his sister as he sat on the witness stand Wednesday in Steele County District Court, where he explained how his sister had ridden her bike on Highway 200 near Finley many times “without incident.”
That changed Aug. 15, 2014, when she was fatally struck by a vehicle.
“That was the single worst day of our lives,” Karaim said, speaking for his family.
Matthew Kelley Strand, 36, of Niagara, pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated reckless driving, a Class A misdemeanor, for the car crash that killed 54-year-old Lisa Knudson of Portland.
Initially, Strand faced a charge of negligent homicide, a Class C felony, after prosecutors said Strand was using his cellphone to take a selfie before striking Knudson on her bike.
Through a plea agreement, he was sentenced for the misdemeanor to serve six months in Traill County jail, with half to be served on electronic home monitoring.
“I am truly sorry about their loss,” Strand said before he was sentenced. “I wish I could take back what happened. I don’t expect them to forgive me because I can’t forgive myself.”
Karaim also spoke on behalf of Knudson’s family, who was sitting in the courtroom.
“There’s really no way I can put into words how painful it is,” Karaim said.
He explained how Knudson’s death had most affected her husband, Ordean Knudson, and her mother, Betty Karaim, who both sat in the front row of the courtroom.
Lee Karaim detailed how Ordean Knudson first found out about the accident when he was driving on Highway 200 and came upon the accident scene.
“Lisa’s body was still on the road,” Lee Karaim said. “That’s how he found out.”
Lee Karaim said he wishes his family had been able to see Lisa Knudson one last time, but because “her body was so badly disfigured,” they decided not to see her body or read the full autopsy report.
He said anything less than negligent homicide would be “a slap on the wrist” for the accident.
Before sentencing, Judge Steven Marquart told Knudson’s family that nothing in the criminal system “could give you solace” for her death.
Marquart ordered Strand to serve 360 days for reckless aggravated driving, with half of the sentence suspended.
Of the remaining 180 days, Strand must serve 90 days in jail and 90 days on electronic home monitoring. He was taken into custody immediately.
Strand must pay more than $1,000 in fines and fees and serve one year of unsupervised probation.
“Even though we don’t agree with the terms of the plea agreement, we will accept the court’s decision,” Karaim said.
Strand had faced five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for negligent homicide.
In an unrelated case, Strand also pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of driving under the influence, a Class B misdemeanor, for an incident after the fatal crash. At the time of his drunken driving arrest, Strand’s blood alcohol content was 0.14 percent.
Steele County State’s Attorney Charles Stock said the plea agreement was determined by looking at similar cases in the area and at the investigation, and he didn’t believe Strand would’ve received a longer sentence if he were convicted in a trial.
“It’s a travesty that happened,” he said.
Knudson was riding a bicycle westbound on Highway 200 just east of Finley that day in a August before she was struck from behind by Strand’s pickup truck and thrown from her bicycle, a North Dakota Highway Patrol report stated. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Strand was also heading west on Highway 200 with two of his children, ages 9 and 10, and did not see the bicycle until after the collision occurred, according to the report.
Strand had turned around because his children were acting up when “he heard a thump. He didn’t see her at all,” Strand’s attorney Bruce Quick said.
Stock said Strand used his cell phone and was distracted by his children in the backseat before the crash.
Data from Strand’s phone showed he took a picture of himself at 6:48 p.m., and one minute later, he dialed 911 to report the accident, according to a criminal complaint.
Accident reconstructionists put Strand’s pickup over the fog line and the rumble strip at the time of the crash, while data from his pickup showed he did not brake before striking Knudson, the complaint states.
Strand said he erased photos from his phone, according to the complaint.
Knudson was a paraprofessional with Camrud, Maddock, Olson and Larson law firm in Grand Forks and was an avid triathlete who competed in dozens of races—including four Ironman triathlons—across the country.
She founded the annual Dewey Kvidt Memorial Duathlon in 2006 in memory of her friend, a fellow triathlete who died from cancer in 2005.
While Lee Karaim was on the stand Wednesday, he said his sister was in better shape than anyone else in the courtroom.
“If (Strand) had just stayed in his lane, my sister wouldn’t have died,” he said. “She would have easily lived another 30 or 40 years.”
“Even though we don’t agree with the terms of the plea agreement, we will accept the court’s decision,” Lee Karaim, victim’s brother.
"Even though we don't agree with the terms of the plea agreement, we will accept the court's decision," Lee Karaim, victim's brother.