Construction worker in critical condition after distracted driving crash

Laura Soto holds Liam, with Ryan Berg behind them.
Laura Soto holds her son Liam, with father and fiance Ryan Berg behind them. Soto, a mother of six, was hit Monday by a 19-year old driver who authorities say was checking her phone.
Courtesy of Ryan Berg

Monday afternoon, Laura Soto was doing what she often does at work — flagging traffic through a construction zone, on this day in East Bethel in the north metro. She was about to let a vehicle she had stopped drive through, when suddenly another car came speeding toward her.

At the last second, the driver swerved around the car stopped in front of her — straight into Soto.

"From what I understand it didn't sound like there were any breaks screeching or anything," said Soto's fiancé, Ryan Berg. "She didn't have any time to react."

Soto was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center, where Berg has stood vigil at her side ever since.

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"I just want to be here, I don't want her to wake up and not have anyone," he said, his voice cracking. "I don't want her to have anyone she doesn't recognize when she wakes up."

Berg is also a construction worker. He met Soto on the job in Fergus Falls, Minn., four years ago.

They have two young sons together, one under 2 months old. They're engaged to be married next March, and scheduled to close on their first house next week.

This accident is just the latest in a disturbing trend. Between 2011 and 2015 there were more than 86,000 crashes in Minnesota where distracted driving was a factor.

"It's a big concern," said State Patrol Lt. Robert Zak. "Distracted driving is becoming more and more common, it's the leading factor in crashes in the state of Minnesota."

Drivers are distracted during one in every four crashes in the state. In 2015 alone it contributed to more than 7,600 injuries and 74 deaths.

It's against state law to text or read emails or otherwise access the web while driving. Cell phone use is completely banned for school bus drivers and teens during their permit and provisional license stages.

Still, Ryan Berg believes more needs to be done to stop distracted driving, especially in construction zones, where he said he witnesses it firsthand all the time.

"The main thing I want to say is, just hang up, if not for yourself, for somebody else you know," he said.

Friends and family have rallied around the couple to help take care of the children. Berg has started a GoFundMe page to help while he's by Soto's side, not working.

He said he has mixed emotions. Part of him wants to have sympathy for the driver. She's only 19, he acknowledged.

"But that's no excuse for something that could have been prevented," he said.

The Anoka County Sheriff's Office is still investigating. The county attorney's office will then decide whether to press charges.