3 crashes kill 5; 8-day total: 16 dead

Three people died in Dakota County when their SUV was hit by a truck. Two more people were killed in crashes in the metro area and Polk County.

In one of the latest of a series of horrific accidents across the state, a Hastings woman and two other people were killed Monday afternoon when their SUV was broadsided by a beer truck in Vermillion Township in Dakota County.

Lucila Rojas, 42, was believed to be driving the SUV when it crashed at a rural intersection about 10 miles southwest of the Hastings apartment complex she helped manage with her husband, Rodolfo.

Officials declined to release the victims' names, leaving Rojas' friends at River Ridge Apartments to speculate that the passengers may have known Rojas from elsewhere.

"She was very hands-on with the tenants," said Cindy Morelli, who lived at River Ridge about a year. "She always let us know she'd be there for us. Just a sweet gal."

Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows said that the SUV was traveling southwest on County Road 47 in Vermillion Township about 12:20 p.m. when it slowed down -- either to turn onto Goodwin Avenue or to make a U turn -- and was hit by the beer truck behind it.

The SUV rolled off the road into a ditch, he said. One person was thrown out and killed. The two other victims were found inside the vehicle. They died at the scene. The truck driver wasn't injured.

According to state records, Rojas was ticketed in December 2002 for failing to exercise due care or control while driving, and for following a vehicle too closely. But neighbor Randy Boothe remembered her Monday as a cautious driver, "with the seat belt on, always looking twice," he said.

Boothe has lived in an upstairs unit next door to Rojas, her two daughters and her husband.

The Vermillion Township crash, as well as a two-vehicle accident Monday in Polk County that killed one person and a fatal one-car accident in the south metro area Sunday, brought the number of people killed in Minnesota traffic accidents in the past eight days to 16.

In the latest crash, one person was killed at 4:30 p.m. Monday when one vehicle rear-ended another stopped at a train track on Hwy. 2 in Polk County, in northwestern Minnesota.

Emily Jean Thomas, 23, of Edina, died after her car went out of control at 8:40 p.m. Sunday and crashed on I-35W near I-494 on the Richfield-Bloomington border. She died at 10:08 p.m. at Hennepin County Medical Center. According to her Star Tribune funeral notice, Thomas was a 2004 graduate of Burnsville High School.

Staff writers Mary Lynn Smith and Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109

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