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Associated Press, Published April 28 2010

16 dead in 4 days on Minnesota roads

MINNEAPOLIS – Spring fever has hit Minnesota drivers hard, leading to poor choices and a rash of car crashes that have killed at least 16 people in four days, a state traffic safety official said Tuesday.

Since Friday, three teenagers have died in a pickup rollover in southeastern Minnesota. Six people were killed early Sunday in a head-on crash near Cambridge. Three people died Monday when their sport utility vehicle smashed into a beer truck in Dakota County. Seven of the dead in those and other crashes are teenagers.

Director Cheri Marti of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety says the spate of fatal accidents is an aberration. But she says driver behavior is the common thread.

“It really is about driver choice and people not taking driving seriously,” Marti said.

With the early warm weather and dry pavement, road speeds are increasing, Marti said. Normally, the state would not see such a stretch of deadly accidents until the summer months, she said.

“We seem to be starting far earlier now,” Marti said. “I think people are potentially getting a bit of spring fever, and some of the risky choices” such as speeding, drinking and driving, and not wearing seat belts.

Overall, Minnesota traffic deaths have been decreasing. According to preliminary figures, Minnesota had 421 traffic fatalities in 2009 – the lowest number since 1944 and a

7 percent drop from 2008. But this weekend’s fatalities put the state ahead of last year’s pace.

The state has already had 101 traffic deaths this year, according to a preliminary Department of Public Safety count. The death count was 95 at this time last year. In 2009, Minnesota didn’t reach the 100-death mark until early May.

In Anoka County, which averages 19 traffic deaths a year, officials have just completed a 2030 transportation plan that includes traffic safety, assistant county engineer Andrew Witter said. The northern Twin Cities county looks every year at intersections and identifies areas where crashes happen so it can apply for federal funds to correct them, he said.

“We need to continue the education and support” to reduce traffic fatalities, Witter said. That includes enforcing state laws requiring seat belts and banning drivers from

texting, he said.

But some motorists, apparently out of a sense of personal freedom, refuse to wear seat belts, said Lt. Matt Langer, spokesman for the Minnesota State Patrol.

“There’s just a segment of the public that, for some reason, they think they’re invincible or the law doesn’t apply to them,” Langer said.


Deadly Minnesota crashes

Timeline of deadly Minnesota crashes since Friday:

Friday

- 1:18 p.m. Mychelle Schmitt, 44, St. Cloud, fatally injured when the motorcycle she is riding on collides with deer in Rockville.

- 3:20 p.m. Shauna Marie Ruhoff, 16, Katie Lee Hornberg, 14, and Morgan Zeller, 13, are killed in pickup rollover near Altura.

Saturday

- 6:08 p.m. Deanna Anderson, 16, Onamia, killed in broadside crash at highway intersection in Onamia.

Sunday

- 2:40 a.m. Car-SUV collision on Highway 95 west of Cambridge kills six people, including three teenagers. Only survivor is driver of car, Sabrina Schumacher, 16, of Isanti.

- 8:40 p.m. Emily Thomas, 23, Burnsville, dies after her car hits bridge pillar on Interstate 35W in Bloomington.

Monday

- 12:20 p.m. Three people are killed when their SUV collides with a beer truck in Dakota County.

- 4:38 p.m. William Johnson, 23, Winger, killed when his minivan rear-ends tanker truck stopped at railroad tracks in Erskine.