Uncontrolled intersections cause concern

Published 7:25 am Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Matthew Prigge had been down the dirt road countless times before.

But on July 16, the unexpected happened.

Prigge, a 41-year-old father of five, was driving on 720th Avenue in Pleasant Valley Township — not far from his Stewartville home — when he collided with another vehicle at the intersection of 720th Avenue and 320th Street.

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Going about 50 mph at the time, Prigge’s SUV and the other truck both went careening into ditches. Prigge suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung, for which he had surgery on Thursday. His five children were also in the vehicle, and two of them, 12-year-old Hannah and 11-year-old Zechariah, suffered moderately severe injuries, though they are now recovering.

A passenger in the other vehicle, 19-year-old Torri Suzane Broich of Grand Meadow, ended up being trapped in her truck. Broich was extricated from the vehicle and airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester. She suffered rib and collarbone fractures.

All of these injuries and all of the damage occurred at an intersection without any stop signs — something that is relatively common in rural areas of the county, the sheriff said.

“There are a lot,” Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said.

While Amazi did not have an exact figure, she said it’s safe to say that a majority of rural, dirt-road intersections — like the one Prigge drove through — are not controlled.

The sheriff said accidents at such intersections aren’t that common, simply because so few cars go by. But when accidents do happen, Amazi said they’re typically severe, like a fatal crash she remembered from about 20 years ago that also occurred at an uncontrolled cornfield intersection.

Making matters worse this time of year is the height of the cornfields, which can prevent drivers from seeing around corners until it’s too late.

Prigge said the tall corn was a factor in his crash, noting that neither driver saw each other coming. On top of that, the crash occurred around dusk, meaning the drivers struggled to see both clouds of dust and headlights coming from the oncoming vehicle.

Added all up, and Prigge said the area was truly a “blind spot.”

With the experience behind him, Prigge said he has changed his views on uncontrolled intersections. Though he used to think the spots were fine without signs, Prigge said the accident has forced him to look at the issue in a new light.

“I hate to say you stop looking (in uncontrolled intersections), but you’re less aware. You kind of get used to it,” he said. “But I think there should be stop signs or yield signs at intersections.”

Amazi said from a law enforcement perspective, she too is in favor of more signage. However, the intersections without stop signs are by-and-large operated by individual townships, Mower County Engineer Mike Hanson said. That means changes would have to come at the township-level, not the county-level.

Both Amazi and Hanson said the key to handling such intersections is to slow down before entering, much as if a yield or stop sign was in fact there.

Prigge said his accident was no one’s fault in particular, but he noted that he may have simply gotten too comfortable on the familiar dirt road and not heeded Amazi and Hanson’s advice. In the future, he said he’d be more aware of locations without stop signs, and he would drive accordingly.

For now, Prigge said he just feels lucky that he and his children are alive and well.

“We are very blessed, very fortunate, that we made it out OK,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”