Council member, ex-fire chief give very different accounts of drive through
WILLMAR -- Two different versions of the Jan. 15 drive by council member Ron Christianson through a restricted area were given by Christianson himself and former fire chief Gary Hendrickson during the Willmar City Council meeting Monday night.
WILLMAR - Two different versions of the Jan. 15 drive by council member Ron Christianson through a restricted area were given by Christianson himself and former fire chief Gary Hendrickson during the Willmar City Council meeting Monday night.
Christianson is the subject of a petition-signing effort by a committee seeking to recall the Ward 2 council member. As one of its reasons, the Recall Ron Committee states on its website that Christianson violated the law when he drove around barricades and through a restricted area established to protect the public and first responders while responding to a gas leak.
The committee’s website states that this action unnecessarily compromised the safety of the workers, citizens and property, as well as exposing the city to financial liability.
Speaking during the open forum at the start of the meeting, Hendrickson said he came on his own and at no one else’s request. But Hendrickson said he felt it was important to discuss the facts associated with the gas leak, which occurred after a car struck an above-ground natural gas structure near First Reformed Church in the 1200 block of 15th Street Southwest.
“There seems to be a lot of political rhetoric that’s being bounced around about exactly what happened on that particular day involving council member Christianson. My career has been based on trust, honor and integrity, and I felt it was important to come and discuss this particular incident,’’ he said.
“To say that I did not wave councilman Christianson through the gas leak, there’s no particular reason to do such a particular thing,’’ Hendrickson said.
Based on the public safety events of that day, Hendrickson said he advised Willmar residents on a local radio station that there would be no traffic going through that location.
At about 10:15 a.m., Hendrickson said Christianson drove past his truck as Hendrickson was sitting in it and around his truck with the emergency lights on as well as a gas truck digging out a trench to help repair the system.
Christianson turned left toward the gas leak and then drove through the church parking lot “and almost took out a couple of CenterPoint Energy people on his way through there.’’
Hendrickson said he called Sgt. Michael Markkanen on cell phone and reported the incident to the police department. Hendrickson said Christianson was given a warning.
Even though Hendrickson resigned April 30 to be Brooklyn Center deputy fire chief and lives 100 miles away, he said he still owns property in Willmar, reads the paper, feels vested in the community, and said he wanted to make sure everyone understood exactly what took place that day.
Shortly before adjournment, Christianson received permission from Mayor Marv Calvin to offer his version of events.
Christianson said he drives 15th Street Southwest almost every day on his way to the office, said he heard the fire trucks, and went to look for the fire. When he got to the intersection of 15th Street and 16th Avenue Southwest, he looked to the right thinking there was the location of the fire.
He said Hendrickson’s truck was sitting at the curb on the righthand side at an angle, not blocking the street, and Christianson said there were no cones in from him. Christianson said he waved at Hendrickson. Christianson said he looked to the right to see if there is a fire and turned left into the intersection and said he saw a car that had run into the natural gas structure and that gas was leaking.
Christianson said he was in the street and wondering that he was in the wrong place. He pulled into the church parking lot, which was 15-20 feet from the gas leak. He said he didn’t see any lights and nobody jumped out to tell him to stop.
Christianson said he drove out the rear parking lot entrance into Ramblewood, moved one cone, thinking he could get back onto 15th Street, and said he did not put the two men standing by the truck in danger. However, he was met a police officer who told him to turn around and go through Ramblewood. Christianson said he called Hendrickson two times to say he knew he had done something wrong. At a later committee meeting, Christianson said Hendrickson told him not to worry about it and it was not a big deal.
“Nobody in their right mind would drive through a dangerous intersection. I’m being made out to look like I did this on purpose and putting people in danger. I got a warning. Nobody stopped me. There were no cones to go through next to the chief’s fire truck. I turned left and it was a total surprise. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ he said, to applause from three supporters.