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One person to hospital, co. squad car damaged in multi-car crash

A tow truck prepares to remove a vehicle Wednesday from the scene of an accident on the northbound lane of the 900 block of Business Highway 71 in Willmar. Tribune photo

WILLMAR -- One driver was taken by Willmar Ambulance to Rice Memorial Hospital after a multi-car crash around 8 a.m. Wednesday along the 900 block of Business 71 in Willmar. A Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office squad car suffered an estimated $5,000 in damages in the crash. Traffic on the highway was rerouted onto service roads as emergency responders and tow trucks cleared the scene.

According to a crash report from the Willmar Police Department, the incident began when a 2001 Chevy Impala driven northbound by Vanessa Cardona, 18, of Willmar, went off the road to the right and into the ditch. She was not hurt.

Eric Tollefson, a sheriff's detective, stopped his unmarked squad car, a Dodge Durango, to assist Cardona.

All of the lights on the squad car were flashing.

Meanwhile, a 1992 Ford Explorer driven by Kenneth Paschke, 16, of Willmar, entered the ditch south of those vehicles. A 1999 Dodge, driven by Troy Stulen, 18, of Willmar, avoided the Paschke vehicle, but crashed into the squad car.

Stulen was taken by ambulance to the hospital for possible injuries.

Another two vehicles, also northbound on Business 71, both lost control south of the accident scene.

A 2005 Ford driven by Heather Cluka, 33, of Willmar, did a 360-degree spin and struck a 2003 Chevy sport utility driven by Robert Williams, 67, of rural Willmar. Cluka's vehicle came to a stop in the middle of the road. Williams' vehicle crashed into a light pole and stopped in the southbound lanes. Neither Cluka, Williams nor the two passengers in Williams' vehicle were hurt.

All of the vehicles involved in the crash, except those driven by Cardona and Paschke, were damaged to some extent.

Several other vehicles also entered the ditches, either as drivers were attempting to avoid the crash or because they were gawking at the incident. None of those drivers was reported hurt.

The Willmar Fire Department was called to the scene because of a live wire on the pole that was struck by Williams' vehicle.

Officials are urging drivers to slow down and not use their cell phone when driving on icy, slushy or otherwise difficult road conditions.

"You need both hands on the wheel when that slush grabs your tires," said Willmar Police Officer Marilee Dorn.

In the 48 hours from around 9 a.m. Monday morning to 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, police officers and sheriff's deputies responded to 51 incidents, either crashes or vehicles that left the roadway due to slippery conditions. The Minnesota State Patrol assisted or wrote reports for 16 incidents. The Sheriff's Office wrote 11 reports of crashes and the Police Department wrote 25 reports.

The incidents involved at least three hit-and-run crashes, 11 rollover crashes and three impaired drivers, Dorn said.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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