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Published July 26 2012

Report: Drivers tried to avoid each other in final moment

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – The drivers of both vehicles tried to take evasive action just before a head-on crash July 6 that killed a West Fargo family of three and the drunken driver going the wrong way on Interstate 94, according to the state Highway Patrol’s final crash report released Thursday.

The crash investigation found no pre-impact skid marks from either vehicle, the report says.

According to witnesses, 28-year-old Wyatt Klein of Jamestown exited the Crystal Springs rest area the same way he drove in –using the westbound entrance ramp – and headed east going 75 to 80 mph in the wrong direction.

The other vehicle, a 2009 Subaru Forester carrying Aaron Deutscher, 34, his pregnant wife, Allison, 36, and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, had just passed a semi and moved back into the driving lane of westbound I-94.

Before the collision, which occurred about half a mile east of a hill crest, Klein’s 1994 Chevy Silverado pickup moved from the passing lane into the driving lane occupied by the Deutscher vehicle.

Just before the collision, Aaron Deutscher steered left and Klein steered right, resulting in a head-on crash with an overlap of 80 to 90 percent, the report states.

It’s unknown how fast the Deutscher vehicle was going. Neither vehicle was equipped with a crash data recorder, the report notes.

The report also describes Klein’s activities in the hours leading up to the crash at 7:16 p.m.

According to the report:

Klein had left work at Double JJ Manufacturing in Gackle two hours early, at 3 p.m., so he could deliver some paperwork to his attorney regarding a family custody case in which he was attempting to gain custody of his son. An employee who worked near Klein said he hadn’t been drinking at work.

Klein went to his camper in Gackle before traveling to Streeter. He arrived at DJ’s Bar about 4 p.m. and had two beers there, the bar’s owner said.

Klein left the bar and went across the street to Friend’s Bar at 4:30 p.m. He was there until 6:15 or 6:30 p.m., and during that time, he consumed five to six beers and three shots of tequila. He also took two unopened beers with him when he left, which isn’t illegal, patrol Sgt. Tom Herzig said.

While at the bar, Klein – who was deaf – wrote a note to a cook that he was going to Fort Totten and asked how far Steele was from Streeter.

The patrol believes Klein then traveled north on Highway 30 from Streeter to I-94 and drove west on

I-94 to the rest area.

A blood sample showed Klein had a blood-alcohol level of 0.25 percent, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving.

At the time of the report, the patrol was still waiting for the results of a drug screening. One of Klein’s co-workers told the patrol that the inside of his pickup always smelled like marijuana and that Klein smoked marijuana “frequently or daily,” the report states.

Patrol officials have been unable to locate the driver of the semi, which one witness said was about one semi-length behind the Deutscher vehicle when the crash occurred. The same witness told the patrol the semi didn’t stop.

Another witness, who drove into the median to avoid hitting one of the vehicles involved in the crash, told the patrol he observed the semitrailer moving left and right, occasionally getting close to the center line. He said he was going to pass the semi and had moved into the left lane just as the two vehicles collided.

Herzig said the case has been difficult for all of the families involved, including Klein’s.

“Anytime that you mix alcohol and behind the wheel, there’s nothing good about it. And in this case, it’s a classic example of what can occur when we have an intoxicated driver behind the wheel and we have innocent people on the other end of it, on the receiving end,” he said. “You know, even Mr. Klein, too, lost his life, and that’s just one more life that we didn’t need to lose.”

Aaron Deutscher’s father, Tom Deutscher, received a copy of the detailed report Thursday but said, “I don’t have the stomach to read it.”

He said the crash has “just destroyed our family,” and he favors strengthening drinking-and-driving laws to deter the behavior in whatever way is most effective.

“I firmly believe that it’s grossly underestimated, the amount of drinking and driving that goes on out there,” he said. “My main point is, to do nothing is something we simply can’t do.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

What should you do in a head-on situation?

North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Herzig said it’s difficult to say how drivers should react when encountering a vehicle going the wrong way,

“Every situation is different,” he said.

If there’s time to recognize that a driver is coming the wrong way in your direction, it’s best to slow down, pull over and stop along the edge of the road, or do “whatever you need to do to create distance from that oncoming hazard.” Herzig said.

Depending on the conditions, “It’s just difficult sometimes to prevent these things,” he added.