Treacherous conditions on I-35 reportedly caused by light snow, flat land

Published 10:10 am Saturday, February 16, 2019

Poor road conditions Thursday that led to a 30 vehicle pileup are reportedly part of a longer trend of treacherous conditions on Interstate 35 south of Clarks Grove caused by a significant amount of light snow and flat land.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Director of Public Engagement and Communications Mike Dougherty noted the stretch of I-35 near Clarks Grove has frequently faced whiteout situations in windy conditions. He said crashes sometimes occur when motorists travel too fast in low visibility areas. The abundance of traffic causes difficulty for motorists to stop, he noted.

Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag questioned why there have been a number of local large crashes. He said there have been more local ones than in other areas with similar weather conditions.

“It seems like our area has issues with dangerous roads, and why is that?” he asked. “It’s a huge public safety thing, and it’s also very expensive.”

Freitag said he responded to local crashes from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and directed motorists heading south on the interstate off of the road.

“I had never seen such a thing before,” he said.

Freitag noted there were crashes as the pileup increased.

“It was a mess,” he said. “There were a lot of cars involved in this.”

One crash injured a Minneapolis man when two vehicles collided on the stretch of interstate.

Dijon Chase Legore, 27, was taken to Owatonna Hospital with at least one injury deemed not life-threatening.

Bruce Michael Egeness, 45, of Albert Lea was driving a 2016 Ford Fusion and Legore was driving a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix south on I-35 when the two vehicles collided at 3:39 p.m., according to the Minnesota State Patrol.

The report states both men were wearing their seat belts and alcohol was not a factor in the crash.

Dougherty said though the department seeks to be efficient with salt use, utilization of the tool is based on need.

He said salt is less effective when temperatures sink below 15 degrees.

Freitag said one week ago when there were strong west winds, the wind was blowing trailers at a 5 degree angle, making him concerned he could be hit.

He said a large tow truck was struck Thursday while at a local crash scene. No injuries were reported.

Freitag said he did not want to tell Minnesota Department of Transportation employees how to do their jobs, adding he would support spending more money if additional product needs to be spread on roads.

“If there’s something that can be done about it, let’s do it,” he said of improving poor local driving conditions.

Freitag said some motorists have driven through ground blizzards with no lights on, adding people have also chosen to drive long distances unnecessarily in poor weather.

“This isn’t all MnDOT’s fault,” he said. “A lot of it is motorists.”

Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson said approximately 10 property damage crashes and seven crashes with injuries deemed not life-threatening occurred on I-35 south of Clarks Grove. He noted after an initial crash, subsequent crashes can occur as traffic backs up.

To Christianson, blowing snow, causing the icing of roads, has increased due to relatively high amounts of light snow.

He noted the Freeborn County area is flat, causing a further increase in blowing snow across roads.

Christianson said there has been an increase in the number of snow plows being struck, an increase he attributes to poor visibility, motorists driving too quickly and not seeing the plows.

He noted nine state troopers have been rear-ended since Feb. 1 in Minnesota.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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