Recent fatal crashes involving farm trucks put focus on road safety during harvest

FARGO, North Dakota - A pair of recent crashes involving farm trucks in northern Minnesota counties left two men dead and two men injured, putting a tragic spotlight on the dangers of driving during harvest season.

Sugar beet harvest
The sugar beet harvest was in full swing on the farmlands near Ada, Minn., in this 2009 photo. Forum file photo

FARGO, North Dakota – A pair of recent crashes involving farm trucks in northern Minnesota counties left two men dead and two men injured, putting a tragic spotlight on the dangers of driving during harvest season.

Given the number of trucks hauling crops this time of year, law enforcement officials are asking drivers of all sorts of vehicles to be patient on the road and to stay alert.

"If you start to get fatigued, you have to pull over and stop because the fatigue will catch up to you," said Sgt. Rod Eischens of the Minnesota State Patrol.

The first of the two crashes happened about 11:15 p.m. Monday on a straight stretch of Minnesota Highway 9, a couple of miles north of Felton in Clay County.

An empty farm truck that had been hauling sugar beets was headed north, and a Dodge Dakota Club pickup was going south when the pickup crossed the center line and collided with the farm truck, according to the State Patrol.


Eischens, who is investigating the crash, said it's unclear why the pickup entered the farm truck's lane. The farm truck driver tried to avoid the pickup without success, Eischens said.

"He did take evasive action," the sergeant said. "There's brake marks to indicate that."

The two men in the pickup died at the scene. "I believe they were probably gone at impact," Eischens said, adding that the men had to be extricated from the totaled pickup.

"Any head-on is bad, especially with a commercial vehicle involved. When you've got such a difference in weight and size between the two vehicles, it's never, never good," he said.

The farm truck driver, Patrick Moran, 55, of Waubun, was taken to Essentia Health in Fargo to be treated for injuries that were not life-threatening, the patrol said.

The passenger in the pickup was Ricardo Gutierrez, 23, of Borup, the patrol said. The identity of the pickup driver was not released, pending notification of his relatives.

Moran and Gutierrez were both wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, the patrol said. Eischens did not know whether the pickup driver was wearing a seat belt.

The second crash occurred about 3:15 a.m. Tuesday about 4 miles west of Borup, according to the Norman County Sheriff's Office.


A man driving a truck loaded with sugar beets was trying to turn at Norman County Road 39 and 240th Street when the truck rolled, the sheriff's office said.

The driver, 50-year-old Jescie Flores, suffered serious injuries and was flown to a Fargo hospital, the sheriff's office said.

In North Dakota and Minnesota, the law allows someone without a commercial driver's license to haul crops within 150 miles of a farm. "A lot of those drivers out there in those beet trucks have just regular driver's licenses," Norman County Sheriff Jeremy Thornton said.

Thornton said Flores did not have a commercial driver's license. Eischens did not know what sort of license the driver in the crash near Felton had.

On Tuesday, Jeff Schweitzer, a spokesman for American Crystal Sugar Co., said the beet harvest was just under 70 percent complete.

"By the weekend, we'll be very close to 90 percent done, and that really will lessen the amount of traffic on the roads," Schweitzer said.

Beet processors like Moorhead-based American Crystal and Wahpeton, N.D.-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative don't own the beet trucks, and they don't employ the drivers. The growers do that, said Tom Knudsen, Minn-Dak's vice president of agriculture.

"Ultimately, the responsibility is on the grower who hired these people," Knudsen said. "Once the (driver) takes off, he's on his own, and no grower can monitor his trucks 24/7."


Transportation officials in Minnesota and North Dakota don't keep specific statistics on crashes involving trucks hauling crops, but Lt. Iverson acknowledged that such crashes continue to be a problem. "Unfortunately, it's a reoccurring issue that we have," he said.

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