Alcohol use by another motorist is believed to have been a factor in a head-on crash Saturday night that critically injured Southwest Minnesota State University's head men's basketball coach and killed his infant son.
Drake Bigler, 5 months, died in the collision on Hwy. 29 and County Road 41 in Pope County, in western Minnesota. His father, Brad Bigler, 33, remained hospitalized Sunday at Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., with broken ribs and a broken scapula, but his condition had been upgraded to stable.
Bigler's wife, Heather, was driving an SUV north on two-lane Hwy. 29 about 9:25 p.m. Saturday when a southbound pickup truck crossed the center line, according to the Minnesota State Patrol. She swerved into the southbound lane in an attempt to avoid the oncoming pickup, but the vehicles hit head on.
Heather Bigler, 29, suffered noncritical injuries, the patrol said. Her grandmother, Sharon Schuler, 74, of Granite Falls, Minn., was taken to Avera Hospital for injuries.
The Biglers' other two children, daughter Taleigha, 4, and son Nash, 2, were not in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
The driver of the pickup, a 38-year-old man from Starbuck, Minn., was not hurt. Alcohol use on his part was detected and "is suspected to be a factor" in the crash, the patrol said.
According to state records, that driver was convicted of gross misdemeanor drunken driving in 2005 and for drunken driving in 2000. In both of those cases, his blood-alcohol content was greater than 0.25 percent. The legal limit to drive in Minnesota is 0.08 percent. Records show he also has convictions for reckless driving and speeding.
Brad Bigler took over as head coach at the university in Marshall, Minn., three years ago. He previously has served as an assistant coach and played for five seasons for the team, the Mustangs.
This past season, he guided the Mustangs to their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament championship and the school's third appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament.
One of his biggest wins came in February when the Mustangs upset St. Cloud State. His son was born the same evening.
After earning a bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 2003, Bigler began his coaching career at Lakeview High School in Cottonwood, Minn. He later returned to his alma mater to coach the men's team and earn a master's degree in education leadership.
This is the second tragedy to hit the Bigler family in the past year. Last June , Brad Bigler's mother died in a kayaking accident.
"With all the things the Bigler family went through last year with the passing of Brad's mom, to have another accident is truly tragic, heart-wrenching," said Athletic Director Chris Hmielewski. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bigler family.
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib