January was more deadly than usual on Minnesota roads, with nearly three times as many deaths in 2016 as last year, including two in the last two days of the month. February didn’t start well, either, when a crash Monday morning in Winona County killed two people and left another injured, the State Patrol said.
A woman heading north on Hwy. 61 near Winona lost control of her car on an icy curve about 6 a.m., crossed the median and crashed head-on into an SUV. The SUV caught fire; the driver was trapped and died at the scene. The woman in the car also died. A passenger in the car was hospitalized in Winona. No names were released.
A preliminary report from the Office of Traffic Safety on Monday said 25 people died on state roads in January. In 2015, just nine people were killed in traffic crashes. The five-year average for January is 19.
The victims included Tyler Lenort, 38, of Lakeville, who died Sunday from injuries he suffered in a crash Thursday. He had been a Bloomington city worker for 15 years and was on snow-removal duty when the city truck he was sitting in was hit by an SUV. Another worker in the truck and the SUV driver were injured. Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts said he believes excessive speed and alcohol contributed to the SUV’s crash. Police are working with the Hennepin County attorney’s office on possible charges.
Derek R. Lucas, 20, of Rochester, was killed Saturday in a head-on collision on Hwy. 14 just inside the Rochester city limits. Lucas was driving the car; his passenger, David A. Lucas, 58, Derek’s father, was seriously injured. The SUV driver, Senesack Linthakhanh, 52, was not injured. Authorities have not said what led to that crash.
Although state officials are still waiting on police reports and accident reconstructions of some of the January crashes, Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, said lower gas prices and mild weather that typically put more drivers on the road could have contributed to the upswing.
“We don’t know all the factors,” she said. “We have the raw numbers but not the reason for them.”
When the weather is mild, though, Berger said, people drive more and drive faster. Although there are more crashes reported during the winter months, there are more serious injuries and fatalities in the summer, she said.
Berger also said half of all traffic fatalities include people who were not wearing their seat belts. Previous years’ statistics say speed, distracted driving, impaired driving and not buckling up were the top four contributing factors to fatal crashes.
Tuesday could be another difficult day for motorists in southeastern Minnesota. A winter storm warning is in effect for Tuesday, with 8 to 10 inches of snow forecast for much of southeastern Minnesota.
“Some roads may become impassable Tuesday afternoon and night,” the National Weather Service said. “Driving conditions will go from slippery to hazardous to potentially impossible” Tuesday into Tuesday night.