Spate of deaths underscores hazards of the season’s thaw and freeze cycle.
Winter may be loosening its grip on Minnesota but drivers should slow down and continue to be wary of treacherous roads that have contributed to at least eight deaths in the last two weeks, law enforcement and transportation officials said Sunday.
The sunshine, dripping rooflines and temperatures in the 30s and 40s are a welcome relief from the bone-numbing below-zero conditions of the past couple of months that has extended the shelf life of snow and ice on state and local roads. Daytime temperatures could approach 50 degrees by Thursday before dipping back into the 30s over the weekend, with light snow possible Sunday and Monday.
But in addition to spawning the gaping potholes that will jar drivers later this spring, the traditional thaw-and-refreeze cycle can make roads icy and downright dangerous when temperatures fall below freezing after dark.
Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation stood on his deck Sunday afternoon watching the melting snow running off his garage roof. According to 511.org, he said, roads in many parts of the state are in good driving conditions — dry or, at the most, wet.
But in scattered spots in south, south-central and northwestern Minnesota, conditions were only listed as fair, meaning there could still be ice.
“As much as it’s melting, there’s probably going to be some refreeze,” Gutknecht said. “Folks need to slow down and take their time. If you’ve got a bare spot of pavement and ice on either side, probably drive like it was ice.”
Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol echoed that warning, saying that drivers simply must have patience and slow down to avoid crashes, spinouts or worse.
“Road conditions do not cause and are not responsible for crashes, it’s the drivers’ actions and behaviors on the roads which cause them to occur,’’ he said. “Icy roads only magnify the consequences for behaviors such as driving too fast for conditions, inattention, following too closely, etc.”
On Friday night, four young men were killed near Sleepy Eye, Minn., when the driver of their car, Kansas Adams, 19, lost control on an icy curve of westbound Hwy. 14. The car slid into the eastbound lane and was broadsided by a pickup truck.
Adams was still hospitalized Sunday at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. Four passengers, including the driver’s brother, Payton Adams, 17, of Sleepy Eye, were killed. The other victims were John D. Mangen, 18, of Fairfax; Caleb B. Quesenberry, 17, of St. Peter, and Tyler S. Hadley, 20, of Sleepy Eye.
The crash near Sleepy Eye, about 105 miles southwest of Minneapolis, came a week after three Carleton College students died near Northfield when their SUV went out of control on the ice and slide into the path of a semitrailer truck.
Also on Friday, a 53-year-old man from Annandale died from injuries he received in a crash Feb. 23. Alan D. Paulson’s vehicle collided with a pickup truck on an icy Hwy. 55 near 53rd Street in Maple Lake, authorities said.
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284