Cops work to combat Minnesota traffic deaths on July 4th

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2013 - 10:46 PM

Leah M. Colwell

Photo: Dakota County jail,

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Minnesotans head into the July 4th week, often one of the most deadly on state roads, with more driving fatalities than at the same time last year, and authorities are urging drivers to be safe and sober.

As of Friday, 149 people have died on Minnesota roads this year. Last year at this time, that number was 138.

The latest fatal crash occurred Thursday evening when a motorcyclist was killed in Apple Valley. Police said a woman, who allegedly was drunk, crossed in front of him as she was turning from W. 160th Street onto Harwell Avenue W.

The name of the victim, a 29-year-old man from Burnsville, has not been released pending notification of relatives.

The collision happened about 8 p.m. The roads were dry and it was not yet dusk, said Apple Valley Capt. Mitchell Scott.

The driver, Leah M. Colwell, 44, of Lakeville, is being held on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide, third-degree drunken driving, driving on a canceled license and having an open container of alcohol. She has at least one other drunken-driving conviction.

As the July 4th holiday week approaches, the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) warned drivers to plan a sober ride, adhere to the speed limit, wear seat belts and be patient.

In the past five years, 29 people have been killed in traffic accidents over the July 4th holiday period. Nineteen of those deaths were alcohol-related, authorities said, a 65 percent drunken-driving percentage that far eclipses the yearlong average of 30 percent. In those five years, 94 people suffered serious injuries; 23 of those were drunken-driving related.

The DPS generally counts a 78-hour span in the July 4th holiday period. Last year, because the holiday fell on a Wednesday, only 30 hours were counted. There were no traffic fatalities last year. There were four deaths in 2011 and 2010, seven in 2009 and eight in 2008. The 2007 holiday span also covered 30 hours and had no deaths.

There will be increased DWI patrols this weekend in the state’s 13 deadliest counties for drunken-driving deaths. Those counties include all of the metro area.

There also will be expanded patrols over the holiday weekend.

“The holiday is historically deadly” because of nice weather, more celebrations and increased travel, the DPS said in a news release. The forecast for the week calls for highs in the 80s with a slight chance of rain.

 

Starr writer Pat Pheifer contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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