On Jan. 1, Sarah Delaney and her family's lives changed forever.
An EMT and the director of Mabel Ambulance Service, Delaney's pager went off for a report of a crash.
"I wasn’t sure what we were getting into, but it didn't sound very good," Delaney said Tuesday morning. "When I walked around the car, I said, ‘I’m pretty sure this one is gone.’ And in EMS, you just keep going to the ones you can save. I proceeded around the car to help the driver, and I looked down, I see this crazy wild hair that looked familiar, and I see those bracelets, and I realized it was my son."
Dylan Delaney, 17, died in the crash. Ten days later, fellow passenger 15-year Spencer Douglas died as a result of his injuries. The driver, identified in the Minnesota State Patrol Crash report as 19-year-old Lauren Elizabeth Bedard, suffered life-threatening injuries.
Under falling snow with a backdrop of 300 empty chairs representing those who have been killed so far this year, Sarah Delaney urged Minnesota drivers to do better.
"I’ve worked in EMS for 15 years and I have responded to many accidents. If I could get one message out to the other drivers: Slow down. Put your phones away," Delaney said. "Drive sober. Buckle up and concentrate on the road. It only takes a split second for an accident to happen. Take driving seriously and always drive smart."
Dylan was one of more than 300 people who lost their lives on Minnesota roadways this year. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety released preliminary numbers on Monday afternoon, but in less than 24 hours between the initial news release and the event, six more people were added to the growing list.
Delaney and members of the law enforcement community gathered Tuesday to call attention to the surge of traffic deaths. A total of 314 people have died in crashes, compared with 288 deaths in 2019 for the same Jan. 1 to Oct. 20 time frame. A majority of this year’s traffic fatalities, 68%, have occurred in Greater Minnesota.
Only two years in the past decade have had higher traffic death counts. In 2015, 330 people died on Minnesota roadways between Jan. 1 and Oct. 20. In 2012, 317 people died during that time frame.
The high numbers come despite a decrease in traffic during the spring and early summer, as the state was placed under a shelter-in-place order as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost a third of those fatal crashes this year were speed-related.
"Rules matter. We need people, quite frankly, to slow the hell down in Minnesota," said Booker Hodges, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "Minnesota may share a latitudinal line with Germany, but we do not have an autobahn in Minnesota."
Between April 1 and May 21 of this year, Minnesota State Troopers issued 232 citations for drivers traveling at more than 100 mph, said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Col. Rochelle Schrofer. Compared to that time frame in 2019, troopers issued 93 violations.
"That is a 149% increase over last year. The rate of aggressive, speeding, driving that we are seeing is off the charts right now. The all-too-common impaired driver, the all-too-common distracted driver. The all-too-common unbelted driver, we are seeing those as well," Schrofer said. "The decisions that people are making out on the roadways are selfish decisions."
Fillmore County Sheriff John DeGeorge told drivers to not be complacent, especially on roads they drive every day.
"Remember young men like Dylan and women and everyone else who has been killed in crashes," he said. "Remember complacency kills."
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson recalled telling grandparents their 14-year-old daughter had died on a joy ride after school with some friends or having to tell a husband and his three daughters that his wife, their mother, would never be coming home.
“I can tell you many more heartbreaking stories all day long," Torgerson said." Each situation heart-rending, and each death preventable."