Minnesota state troopers respond to hundreds of weather-related crashes across the region
WILLMAR — West central Minnesota got — what many hope is — the last blast of winter this week in an April storm that dumped nearly a foot of snow in some areas.
Blowing snow early in the morning that reduced visibility, along with melting snow that resulted in icy roads, put highways in the difficult to hazardous category for travelers, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
It’s been a tough week on Minnesota roads because of the late-season snow.
From noon Tuesday through noon Thursday, troopers from the Minnesota State Patrol responded to 415 crashes, including 56 crashes with injuries, but no serious injuries or fatalities, according to the State Patrol’s tweets Thursday afternoon.
Troopers also responded to 475 reports of vehicles that went off the road or stalled and 10 reports of jackknifed semi-trucks during that timeframe.
From 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, troopers handled 296 crashes, including 39 injury crashes, but no serious injuries or fatalities, plus 440 vehicles off the roadway or stalled.
One of those accidents involved a MnDOT snow plow and a car that collided at around 11 a.m. on U.S. Highway 71, near Kandiyohi County Road 10, west of Spicer.
According to the State Patrol, the snowplow, driven by Joshua Ruka, 30, of Sunburg, was going north on Highway 71 when it collided with a car driven by Angel Brooks, 27, of Carlos.
Brooks was taken to Rice Memorial Hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The accident is under investigation.
Although Renville County and Yellow Medicine County pulled their plows off the roads for a couple hours when snow reduced visibility and made it too dangerous to be out, area county and state crews were able to stick to their routes to remove snow and apply sand or chemical on slippery stretches.
The sloppy conditions, and soft gravel roads and gravel road shoulders that are common in the spring presented extra challenges, said Dave Fritz, Kandiyohi County highway maintenance supervisor.
Two Kandiyohi County trucks were damaged and put out of commission when the wings were torn off while attempting to remove snow from gravel portions of roads.
Those vehicles “won’t be moving for a couple weeks,” said Fritz. “We’re lucky it’s the middle of April. It’s just part of the business, I guess.”
Not having those two snowplows in the fleet should not be a big problem.
“As long as it isn’t the middle of January, we’re in pretty good shape,” said Fritz.
The county has a couple older trucks he intended to “get out of the moth balls” and put to work this morning when crews are out mopping up anything that fell overnight. After that, he said, “We’ll hope the sun comes out.”
Fritz said plows will not go on gravel roads today.
The Willmar Police Department bolstered its regularly scheduled shift of officers with the school resource officers who did not have schools to patrol because of the snow day, according to Police Capt. Jim Felt.
The officers spent most of their time working to help citizens whose vehicles had gone off the roadway or gotten stuck in the snow, Felt said. There were property damage crashes in the city, but no injury crashes Thursday morning.
Snowy days can either increase or decrease the number of calls the Police Department receives, Felt noted, adding that the department plans for increased calls from citizens.
“We have to make sure we don’t go light on staffing,” he said. “We need the help.”
Tribune staff writer Gretchen Schlosser contributed to this story.