A woman involved in a fatal traffic accident with a horse and buggy near Pawnee City, Neb., was driving unsupervised with only a learner's permit.
Pawnee County Attorney Jennifer Stehlik Ladman said that Vivian E. Cockrell, 56, was alone when her car collided with an Amish horse and buggy about 9 a.m. Sunday. Nebraska law requires that anyone driving on a learner's permit be supervised by a licensed driver over the age of 21.
Rueben Yoder, 17, was pronounced dead at the scene. His sister Fannie Yoder, 20, suffered head injuries and was taken to Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln where she was listed in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.
Stehlik Ladman said Tuesday that it could be “a couple weeks” before she makes any decisions on whether to charge Cockrell with a crime. Cockrell declined to be interviewed.
“We're still waiting on an accident reconstruction report, results of the autopsy and toxicology results (from Cockrell),” she said.
Pawnee County Sheriff Jayme Reed said the pair were riding in the buggy eastbound on Nebraska Highway 8-50 about 3½ miles east of Pawnee City when a car driven by Cockrell struck it from behind. It was unclear who was driving the buggy.
According to Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicle records, Cockrell's driver's license expired July 8. She was issued a learner's permit three days earlier.
A spokeswoman for the DMV said the department doesn't know why Cockrell went from a license to a learner's permit. She said, however, that it is not uncommon to get a learner's permit after failing a driving test.
Cockrell's expired driver's license included restrictions that she wear corrective lenses, drive only during daylight hours and not exceed 45 mph. Her only infraction on record is a 2011 citation for failing to keep in the proper lane.
Fred Zwonechek of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety said Cockrell would've had to pass a test ride with an examiner before a being issued a driver's license or learner's permit.
Stehlik Ladman said about 35 Amish families live in the Pawnee City area, about 75 miles southeast of Lincoln. This is the first time she could recall a car-buggy accident.
“You see them every day on the road,” she said of horse-drawn traffic, “It's nice to have that little bit of living history in the area.”
“I was told that the Amish are extremely safety conscience and work to make themselves as visible as possible,” he said. “They are unfailing about placing slow-moving vehicle signs on their buggys and following whatever other safety precautions are required.”