Speed not a factor in work-zone crash

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2011 - 6:53 AM

As State Patrol investigated, the deaths of two men along I-35W brought a plea for caution.

A driver wasn't going too fast when he lost control of his car and veered off Interstate 35W in Burnsville on Thursday, killing two construction workers, the State Patrol said Friday.

"We don't believe excess speed was a factor," said Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol.

But many questions remain about the crash that killed Craig D. Carlson, 47, of Ramsey and Ronald Rajkowski, 44, of St. Joseph, both electricians with Egan Co. Among them: What, if any, charges will Kirk Deamos, 21, of suburban Kansas City, Mo., face in connection with the crash?

Roeske said that will be determined when the investigation is complete and the case is referred to the Dakota County Attorney's Office.

"A crash reconstruction report and all the information that goes along with it can take quite a long time," Roeske said. "It can take anywhere from weeks to months."

For now, Jodi Rajkowski is trying to explain to her sons, ages 5 and 8, that their father won't be coming home.

On Friday, when one of the boys asked where his dad was, she said he was "in heaven with Craig" and explained the accident again. Some of her husband's co-workers at Egan Co. stopped by for a visit.

"Craig and Ron had a great, great working relationship," she said.

Carlson usually worked in the office, but he was visiting the site when the crash occurred. He died at the scene, leaving a wife and two children.

Jodi Rajkowski said her husband had often spoken about how dangerous the roadside work could be.

"He truly believed that his time to go was going to be being hit by a vehicle," she said.

But her husband, who she described as a gregarious guy who enjoyed being with his family, watching sports and drinking Diet Pepsi, loved his job.

"He was a very hard worker," said Rajkowski, adding that she's certain the workers took all the right safety precautions. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

'Stop and think'

Jodi Rajkowski said she hopes the crash will prompt other drivers to be careful, especially in work zones.

"This instance should make people stop and think," she said. "We have several families that are suffering from this, over some carelessness. It's going to affect the rest of our lives."

Investigators have so far eliminated alcohol and excessive speed as contributing factors in the crash, based on witness accounts.

The posted advisory speed limit on that stretch of the highway is 60 miles per hour, said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

He said the state will evaluate whether changes should be made to ensure the safety of road workers.

"Any time there is an incident like this, we will take a look at our work zones and the layout to see if something needs to be adjusted," Gutknecht said.

Deamos has been cooperating with the investigation.

Driver also affected

Brandon Banasik, who has known Deamos since they worked together at a grocery store in suburban Kansas City, said Friday that he was concerned about the way his friend was portrayed in widely circulated Facebook comments.

In the days leading up to the crash, Deamos had posted on Facebook that he had a new car that was "faster than a rocket." Banasik said he hasn't spoken to Deamos since the crash, but is certain his friend would only have meant those comments in jest.

"He cares a lot about people and he cares a lot about what he does," Banasik said. "I'm sure he's traumatized. I hope he and the family of the two workers that got killed, that they can get through this. It's a horrible thing for both sides."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating the men's deaths.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, whose office will ultimately review the investigation and determine charges against Deamos, said, "It's a terrible tragedy anytime anyone is killed in a car crash, particularly innocent folks that are pedestrians working on highway projects."

Backstrom has lobbied for tougher penalties for careless drivers, unimpaired by drugs or alcohol, who cause accidents that kill others. In many such cases, the stiffest charge available under Minnesota law is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Gutknecht, the MnDOT spokesman, reiterated that drivers have a responsibility to be extra cautious in work zones.

"Tragedies like those that occurred [Thursday] are just a split second away, and don't have to happen," he said.

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286

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