Fatalities drop by half
Olmsted County's rate mirrors state's decline
By Janice Gregorson
The number of fatal traffic accidents in Rochester and Olmsted County dropped by more than 50 percent last year.
City and county authorities responded to a total of three traffic fatalities last year while the Minnesota State Patrol investigated or assisted with eight on state roads in Olmsted County.
That compares with 25 traffic-related deaths in the county in 2000. Of that number, 12 died in accidents within Rochester.
Police Capt. Rick Krueger, who heads the patrol division of the Rochester Police Department, said that while the decrease in fatal traffic accidents is dramatic, the number last year is closer to the norm for Rochester, which has an average of six fatal traffic accidents a year.
The fatal accidents last year included the death of an Iowa motorcyclist in northwest Rochester in July and a head-on collision in southwest Rochester in August.
Olmsted County authorities responded to a fatal crash on a rural road in August in which the matriarch of a large family was killed and a total of 24 people were injured. The crash was between a pickup and a tractor pulling a haywagon full of people gathered for a family reunion.
Early statistics also indicate there was a dramatic drop in traffic fatalities statewide last year, possibly the lowest death toll since 1993, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Preliminary figures for 2001 indicated 84 fewer deaths on state roads, a 13 percent decrease from 2000.
Krueger noted that in Rochester in 2000, there were several accidents in which more than one person died.
For example, four young Rochester men died in a fiery crash in October 2000 when their car collided with a semi-tractor trailer and then burst into flames. Three months earlier, two Kasson women were killed in a crash in northwest Rochester. In April 2000, two men died in a crash downtown.
According to the Department of Public Safety, between 1995 and 1999, an average of 17 people died in traffic accidents annually in Olmsted County.
Krueger said it's difficult to say what contributed to the decrease last year.
"Hopefully, people are starting to take notice of some of the traffic laws," he said. That and road improvements might be factors.
He said the department hasn't had a chance to increase traffic enforcement as much as it would like, largely because of increased demand for service and security.
Traffic enforcement "is not to the level we would like it," he said. "We have been emphasizing traffic to our officers and would like to get them out more, and we are working on it," he said.
Increased seat belt use, concentrated law enforcement blitzes, safer cars and safety awareness contributed to the decrease, state officials believe.