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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 18 2012

'Something needs to be done': Woman recalls 2004 crash at Clay intersection where man was killed this week

GLYNDON, Minn. - To Karen Barbee, the intersection of Clay County Road 26 and state Highway 9 holds no good memories.

The 29-year-old says the site where a Ulen, Minn., man died and two others were injured Wednesday is also where her family was involved in a violent crash on June 6, 2004.

In that crash, the Oldsmobile sedan in which she was a passenger was T-boned by a vehicle driving west on County 26 that failed to yield, the State Patrol reported.

The crash put Barbee, who was pregnant at the time, in the hospital for six days where she needed blood transfusions.

Her boyfriend, who later became her husband, needed shoulder surgery. Her two children were also injured, she said Thursday.

The intersection is dangerous, Barbee says, and needs four-way stop signs, warning lights – anything to make it safer.

“Honestly, after our crash, they said they’d put in four-ways or blinking lights,” Barbee said.

“Nothing has been done to decrease the chance of accidents at that site at all. We’re lucky that we even came out of the accident. Something needs to be done.”

Oscar J. Green, 63, died Wednesday when the pickup in which he was a passenger was broadsided by a minivan at the rural crossroads 20 miles north of Moorhead and seven miles south of Felton, Minn.

His wife, Diane Green, 63, the driver, was injured. She was taken by ambulance to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. Her condition is not being released by request of the family, a Sanford spokeswoman said Thursday.

The other driver, Susan Ekre, 57, of Shevlin, Minn., was also taken to Sanford.

Ekre’s health has improved and she’s been upgraded from critical to serious condition, the Sanford spokeswoman said.

There was also a broadside crash on July 24 at the County 26 and Highway 9 intersection. In that crash, a minivan traveling east on County 26 failed to yield and plowed into the passenger side of a truck, leaving two people with minor injuries, the Minnesota State Patrol reported.

“People are just driving too crazy out there. They think they can just look and go,” Barbee said.

“There needs to be something done at the intersection. (Ours is) not the first family there that’s almost lost their lives,” she said.

Until Wednesday’s fatal accident, the intersection was the site of 22 other crashes in the past 20 years, with the only other fatality occurring on June 8, 1995, said Tom Swenson.

Swenson, a traffic engineer with the Detroit Lakes District of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said one other crash was rated serious, and it was on May 8, 1995.

Six other crashes, including Barbee’s crash, were considered minor crashes by the reports filed, Swenson said. Four crash reports list possible injuries. Ten crashes had only property damage, Swenson said.

Of the 22 crashes, five involved single vehicles, which means a two-vehicle crash occurs less than once a year at that spot, Swenson said.

He said Clay County has stop signs on both sides of County 26 and there are rumble strips leading up to them.

Swenson, who’s worked 28 years for MnDOT, said he’s been in the Detroit Lakes district office for six years and has not received a complaint from the public on the intersection.

“We obviously had a very bad result yesterday, very tragic,” he said.

“We can’t control people’s behavior,” he said. “If there are some things we can do to improve safety, I’m interested in doing that.”

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said it’s hard to fathom why intersections like Highway 9 and County 26 have crashes.

“It just seems like those wide-open intersections, there just seems to be crashes,” Bergquist said.

In some cases, one or both drivers might be unfamiliar with the road; other times, weather may play a role.

Some drivers are guilty of simple inattention and not seeing stop signs, he said.

But increasingly, Bergquist said, distracted driving, such as talking or texting on cellphones, or using computers, plays a part.

“Distractions have really become a big deal in cars,” he said.

Barbee, now a mother of five, doesn’t like the intersection, but it’s the road she needs to travel to visit family in Felton and her father’s gravesite.

Her daily reminder of the 2004 crash is chronic back pain. Hitting her seat belt hard has given her bursitis on her hip.

Her son, Caleb Knutson, now 10, has scars from lacerations from his seat belt, Barbee said.

Her daughter, Haley Knutson, now 13, broke her collar bone in the crash.

Barbee said she her son were transported by LifeFlight helicopter from the scene.

“I probably would have been dead if I hadn’t been seat-belted in,” she said. “All of the windshields had been blown out.”

The other driver was injured, too. But Barbee said she doesn’t know if he was cited in the crash.

“We slow down now. If we’re going north or south now (on Highway 9), we just slow down. We don’t even assume they’re going to stop anymore,” Barbee said.

“The people, they just fly. You don’t even know they’re going to stop until the last second, especially during beet harvest time. There’s trucks going everywhere and they hardly stop at those stop signs.”

She said the cost of upgrading the safety of the intersection would be worth it to prevent more accidents and save lives.

“They need to make it safer for people to travel on.”


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583