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West central Minn. law enforcement stepping up patrols, tickets this month

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog, center, speaks Tuesday at the Flags of Honor Memorial in Willmar. He is accompanied by Dr. Scott Abrams, emergency room doctor and Willmar Ambulance Service medical director, left, and Brad Hanson, ambulance service manager. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Law enforcement officers and emergency responders from Kandiyohi and Swift counties put on a show of force Tuesday afternoon to remind drivers of the consequences of speeding during this holiday week and throughout the summer.

Using the Flags of Honor Memorial in Willmar as their backdrop, Kandiyohi and Swift county sheriff's deputies, Willmar, Atwater and Benson police officers, Minnesota State Patrol troopers and Willmar Ambulance Service emergency responders gathered for a kickoff event for a regional enhanced speed enforcement wave that runs through July.

"Summer is the deadliest season on our roads," said Dr. Scott Abrams, emergency room doctor and medical director of the ambulance service. "The worst injuries we see in the ER are from high-speed crashes."

The extra patrols, funded by grants from the state's Toward Zero Death safe roads program, will coincide daily with peak highway travel times, according to Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog.

The agencies will collaborate on the patrols, including saturation patrols, which is how they operate every day of the year, Hartog stressed. "We collaborate during the Toward Zero Death campaign, but we also work together every day with the ambulance service" and the other law enforcement agencies.

The goal of the program is also the name -- Toward Zero Deaths -- and Hartog acknowledged that such a goal may not be possible but "we are going to go for it," he said. "We are working at it."

Speed is the leading factor in motor vehicle crashes in Kandiyohi County, according to Kandiyohi County Safe Community Coalition coordinator Stephanie Felt.

The Fourth of July holiday is the deadliest day of the year on Minnesota's roadways. Statistics from the State Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety show that 15 people died on the state's roads on July 4 between 2009 and 2011.

Furthermore, the DPS stats show that when the Fourth of July travel period is widened to a 78-hour period surrounding the holiday, there have been 21 deaths in three years and 14 of the fatalities have been a result of an alcohol-related crash. Officers have also arrested 1,536 people for driving while impaired over the holiday during the last three years.

Brad Hanson, Willmar Ambulance Service manager, noted that during the first week of July, the ambulance data shows an uptick in trauma calls, to 16 to 18 percent of the service's calls, likely because of high speed motor vehicle crashes.

In Kandiyohi County, the cost of a speeding ticket is $120 and drivers caught speeding at more than 100 mph may lose their driver's license for up to six months, Hanson said. But the cost of lost lives and mobility is estimated at $14.9 million in three years, just for Kandiyohi County.

According to the DPS statistics, there have been 11 traffic deaths from 2009 to 2011 in Kandiyohi County, with two related to speed. The OTS puts a $14.9 million economic impact on the 11 dead, with a $2.7 million economic impact on the two speed-related deaths.

There have also been 40 severe injuries in the three-year period, with six injuries related to speed. The OTS estimates the economic impact of the 40 injuries at $2.7 million, and the cost of the six speed injuries at $406,400.

Six people have died on Swift County roads in 2009-2011, an economic impact of $7.7 million. The death of one person, economic impact of $1.29 million, was speed-related. Seven people sustained severe injuries, at an economic impact of $475,400, and two were speed-related, at a cost of $135,600.

Statewide, there have been 1,200 traffic deaths in 2009 to 2011, at a total economic impact of $1,596,370,000. A total of 254 have been speed-related deaths, at a cost of $338,470,000. Meanwhile, 3,621 people have been severely injured, economic impact $246 million, with 689 injuries related to speed, with an economic impact of $46 million.

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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