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Man accused of taking selfie during crash that killed triathlete near Finley last August

Photo courtesy of Facebook.

FINLEY, N.D. -- A Niagara man is accused of taking a selfie with his cellphone before rear-ending a 54-year-old triathlete on her bicycle near Finley in a fatal crash last August.

Matthew Kelley Strand, 35, was charged Thursday in Steele County District Court with one count of negligent homicide, a Class C felony.

An investigation by the North Dakota Highway Patrol into the crash that killed Lisa Knudson of Portland showed that Strand was distracted by taking a picture of himself on his cellphone while driving, according to court documents filed with the charges.

Data from the phone showed that he took a picture of himself at 6:48 p.m. Aug. 18, then dialed 911 to report the accident at 6:49 p.m., court records state.

Data from the pickup showed he was not only over the fog line and the rumble strip, but also that he did not brake before rear-ending Knudson, a triathlete who was riding her bike westbound on North Dakota Highway 200 ahead of Strand's pickup.

Strand originally told investigators he was distracted by a nearby vehicle and people at a farm, but no one could confirm there were others nearby, documents state. He also admitted erasing photos from his phone, documents state.

Strand's mother, Patsy Strand, said that Knudson was "at least 25 percent at fault," in the crash, having been bicycling at the foot of a hill, in the lane, rather than on the shoulder at the time of the crash.

"What a stupid place to start bicycling," she said.

Strand's mother also said she thinks it's unfair her son is facing felony charges.

"Why a felony?" she said. "That Sletten gal got off. She didn't have to do any jail time."

Abby Elaine Sletten, 20, of Hatton, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in Traill County Court in April in connection with a fatal distracted driving case in which state troopers alleged she was on Facebook during the crash.

The elder Strand said her son's attorney told them that a misdemeanor plea deal was unlikely due to pressure from Knudson's family and her colleagues at a Grand Forks law firm.

"He told me he had put his phone down," she said, of the allegations her son was driving distracted.

His next court date is set for June 17.