Authorities say icy pavement was the overarching factor in a two-vehicle crash on Hwy. 12 Monday morning in Independence that left one of the drivers dead.
A 27-year-old woman was driving west when she lost control of her Ford Fusion about 7:47 a.m. and slid across the centerline between the north and south junctions of County Road 92 and into oncoming traffic. Her vehicle was T-boned by an eastbound Cadillac Deville, said West Hennepin Public Safety Chief Gary Kroells.
The woman, whose name has not been released, died at the scene. The driver of the Cadillac suffered "moderate" injuries and was taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Kroells said.
Authorities shut down the busy highway for about three hours while State Patrol investigators did their work. But unlike other recent fatal crashes along the notorious stretch of road, the evidence suggests that "this was a weather-related crash" and not a result of the road's design, Kroells said.
But it did happen in an area that has the highest crash rate in the metro area when compared to similar two-lane highways, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Members of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition have over the past year been pursuing solutions for making the 38-mile segment of Hwy. 12 from Wayzata in western Hennepin County through Wright County safer, and they issued a challenge in November for drivers to go one year without a fatal crash in that section.
Center rumble strips were installed between Orono and Delano last year, and left turn lanes will be installed this summer at County Road 92 to help prevent crossover crashes.
In addition, MnDOT has installed bright yellow signs along the route to remind motorists about the yearlong campaign and to be careful and attentive.
Monday's death was the second on Hwy. 12 this year. On Jan. 14, a drunken driver crossed the centerline in Delano and crashed head-on into another vehicle, killing Mayla Macon, 40, of Cokato.
There have been 811 crashes over the past five years on the two-lane highway that was built in the 1930s, but now carries more than 15,000 vehicles a day, by MnDOT counts. More than 239 people have been injured, according to DPS statistics.
Kroells said his group will likely be at the State Capitol this session lobbying for funding to make additional improvements on Hwy. 12.
It was too early to confirm whether speed was a factor in Monday's crash, but the State Patrol was out with its admonition for drivers to lay off the accelerator and pay more attention.
"On days like today, you have to anticipate the conditions before you go out there," said trooper John Giovinco, who was at Monday's crash.