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Intersection near New London, Minn., has been the site of multiple crashes

A man and his wife were killed Thursday after the vehicle they were traveling in collided with this 2005 Freightliner semi near New London. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

NEW LONDON — Janett Helgeson drives frequently on state Highway 9 from her home in Sunburg to get to U.S. Highway 71.

That’s where she was Thursday morning when a van that was traveling ahead of her collided with a semi in the middle of the intersection.

“It was terrible,” said Helgeson, who quickly called 911 and then attempted to help the victims — an elderly couple from Madison that was killed and the semi driver who was critically injured.

“It just wrenches at my heart,” said Helgeson, who is not only grieved by the loss of life but determined to take action so that it does not happen again.

“I need to figure out what to do to get some attention there,” said Helgeson, who hopes the state will improve safety conditions at the intersection.

Although there were no fatalities or serious injury accidents at that intersection from 2006 through 2011, there have been three fatalities and two injury accidents there in the last year, said Ryan Barney, traffic engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

That doesn’t surprise Roger Imdieke and his daughters, who own and operate Three Sisters Furnishings near the intersection.

“To me it’s just crazy how many accidents there are,” said Imdieke, who was recently elected to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners and will take office in the new year.

He has witnessed one accident from his store window.

On Thursday, his daughter Tracy Knudsen was in the store when she heard the thundering crash of the vehicles and the semi shearing off a tree and power line.

“The whole building shook. The glass rattled,” said Knudsen. “I knew what the sound was because it’s happened here before.”

Knudsen said this was the worst accident she has seen at the intersection.

“We’re praying for the families,” she said. “I wonder where they were headed and who was waiting for them.”

Barney said the intersection has square corners and fairly good visibility, and nothing has changed there in the last 12 months to cause the increased number of accidents.

The intersection includes stop signs for traffic on Highway 9 before crossing Highway 71, which is a well-traveled truck route with a 60-mph speed limit.

Imdieke said people coming from the west on Highway 9 have a 40-mile clear shot from Benson without any reason to slow down until the sudden stop sign at Highway 71.

People unfamiliar with the area may not be prepared for the stop sign in the middle of a rural area and drive through the intersection, said Imdieke, who said rumble strips on Highway 9 might be a helpful warning.

Helgeson suggested overhead flashing warning lights.

“Something has to change there,” she said. “People shouldn’t have to keep dying there because it’s a bad intersection.”

MnDOT has already made some safety changes and more are in the works.

Barney said streets lights were installed in the last couple years to illuminate the intersection, and about two weeks ago temporary flashing beacons were installed on top of the Highway 9 stop signs.

Permanent flashers that will be bigger and brighter will be installed this spring, said Barney.

Crash data and analysis of accidents will help MnDOT identify factors or patterns for why there has been an increase in accidents at the intersection, said Barney.

Once those details are known, more safety changes could be made, such as additional signage. He said comments from people who travel the route frequently or who have witnessed accidents at the site are also taken into consideration for corrective action.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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