by Sarah Squires
Winona County roads were a dangerous place to be Sunday, when an ice-related accident killed a Lewiston woman and slippery spots left a handful of other accident victims seriously injured.
Brooke Kessler, 25, died after her car crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming vehicle on County Road 26 just outside of Elba. Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand said that icy conditions contributed to the crash.
Kessler was airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester where she later died.
Three other accidents left victims in the hospital Sunday evening, and Lanesboro City Council member Robert Norby died in a crash in neighboring Fillmore County Saturday night.
Winona County Board member Jerry Heim said at a Tuesday board meeting that he wanted to know where the county's highway superintendent was Sunday, adding that he was hard to reach.
Winona County Highway Department head Dave Kramer said in a phone call Tuesday that the county's highway maintenance supervisor was out checking the roads by 4 a.m. Sunday, but the decision to send out sand trucks wasn't made until 4 p.m., after the fatal crash on County Road 26.
Kramer said that sometimes trucks are sent out after requests are called in from citizens or from law enforcement. He said that the department did receive a call about the road conditions on Sunday afternoon, and the trucks were sent out in response.
But the weather was tricky Sunday, he said, because the air temperatures were well above freezing, but the frozen ground still formed ice. He said shady spots and sections of roadway in the valleys were particularly icy.
Kramer said that he wanted to emphasize that drivers this time of year need to be cautious. "People need to expect that there will be some icy conditions on Minnesota roads in the winter," he said.
Road crews can't be everywhere at once, he said, and can't get rid of all of the ice. "We do our best to keep the roads as safe as we can," he said.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation offers the following tips for winter driving:
* Slow down and stay behind the snowplows. Drivers should allow at least five car lengths between their vehicles and snowplows. The road behind the plow will be the safest place to drive;
* Be particularly aware of black ice conditions on surfaces such as bridge decks and entrance and exit ramps;
* Turn on headlights and turn off cruise control settings.
Motorists can obtain timely weather and road condition reports by calling 5-1-1 or logging onto www.511mn.org.