An Omaha man was driving nearly 100 mph Nov. 29 when he crashed into the rear of a car driven by a longtime Millard Public Schools teacher who was stopped at a stoplight, a law enforcement official said.
An investigation revealed that Gerard Skutnik, 55, was going 96 mph in a 45 mph zone on 144th Street when his 2012 Toyota Tundra collided with a 2017 Chevy Malibu driven by Patricia Brinkman, according to a law enforcement official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Brinkman, whose maiden name was Carey and who taught for decades in the Millard schools, had been stopped at a traffic light at 144th Street and Eldorado Drive, just north of West Dodge Road, at 10:50 a.m. the Monday after Thanksgiving.
She was declared dead at the scene of the four-vehicle crash. Another motorist and Skutnik were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Skutnik suffered a broken wrist. It is not clear what injuries were suffered by the other motorist.
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World-Herald attempts to reach Skutnik this week were unsuccessful. A woman answered a phone listed under Skutnik’s name. “I will have him call you,” she said. Skutnik did not call.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said his office has been reviewing business surveillance videotapes from the area and was awaiting further investigative reports. He said he probably would make a charging decision next week.
Under Nebraska state law, drivers face felony motor vehicle homicide charges if:
Their blood-alcohol content is .08 or higher. Penalty: Up to 20 years.
They drove while their license was suspended or revoked. Penalty: Up to three years.
They drove recklessly in causing a crash. Penalty: Up to three years.
In other recent high-profile fatalities involving speeding or inattention, drivers have faced misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide counts and the maximum one year in jail that goes with misdemeanors. Historically, some prosecutors have filed misdemeanor charges while noting that the driver committed infractions short of reckless driving. Others have pointed to a Nebraska Supreme Court case that found that speed alone isn’t indicative of reckless driving.
But Kleine said that 1997 Supreme Court ruling doesn’t prohibit prosecutors from filing felony motor vehicle homicide charges in cases of excessive speeds.
Emphasizing that he was speaking in general about fatal crashes and not specifically about Skutnik’s case, Kleine pointed to a statute that reads: “Any person who drives any motor vehicle in such a manner as to indicate an indifferent or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property shall be guilty of reckless driving.”
“When we’re talking about speed, it’s one thing to be going 40 in a 35,” Kleine said. “It’s another thing to be going three times the speed limit. A reasonable person would say that someone who is going that fast is beyond reckless.”
In addition, Kleine said, such crashes typically involve other traffic offenses, such as following too closely or failing to stop at an intersection — all of which can be indicative of reckless driving.
Preliminary police reports indicated that Brinkman was stopped behind another car in the right, southbound lane of 144th Street. The Tundra that Skutnik was driving hit Brinkman’s car with such force that it pushed her car and the car in front of her into a fourth car. All of the cars spilled into the intersection; the Tundra spun several times before coming to rest in the grass beyond the intersection.
Attempts to reach Brinkman’s relatives were unsuccessful. Online tributes have noted that she received her master’s degree in education and taught for 35 years in the Millard Public Schools — including at Cottonwood and Cody Elementary Schools and Kiewit Middle School. An avid Creighton Bluejays fan and frequent Douglas County election worker, she was chosen woman of the year in 2021 by the local chapter of her sorority, Beta Sigma Phi. She is survived by her sisters, Betty Jean George and Barbara Jansen, daughter Diane Landon, son Lloyd Brinkman, three grandsons and a granddaughter.
Friends described her as caring and kind. “She was a great listener,” friend Amy Arvanis wrote, “and told even better stories.”