by SARAH SQUIRES
and CHRIS ROGERS
Nine young people have died near the curve of Riverview Drive's beginning, where downtown Winona connects with the industrial Mississippi River Port. While the 1997 drownings of five Saint Mary's University students did not prompt the city of Winona to install a larger barrier at the bend in the road, 12 days after the body of Andrew Kingsbury was pulled from the icy water this year — the last to be recovered from the latest tragic accident — city crews quietly erected a cement structure at the deadly scene.
Kingsbury was one of four who died January 5 after Christina Lee Hauser's SUV left the roadway at the curve between Riverview Drive and Second Street and entered the river. Hauser, 36, of Winona, Kingsbury, 29, of La Crosse, along with Matthew Patrick Erickson, 29, of Chatfield, and Blake Overland, 28, of Winona, all drowned after the vehicle broke through the ice. Toxicology reports indicate Hauser had been drinking at the time of the crash.
The installation of the concrete barrier came without Winona City Council discussion. Winona City Manager Judy Bodway said that she and public works department staff made an administrative decision to erect the Jersey barriers.
"We put those in as a temporary barrier until such time as the [Minnesota State Patrol] investigation report is completed," Bodway said. After the report is complete, the city may consider permanent changes. "We just wanted to be sure that if there happened to be any further issues that we placed barriers there," she added.
After the crash, some citizens called for improvements, but the City Council never took up the issue. When asked what prompted the decision, Bodway said, "Nothing specifically, other than the fact that we wanted to make sure that we took this action on a temporary basis until we have the ability to analyze the data."
Bodway said that the city has not been served with a notice of intent to sue regarding the crash and that the city attorney was not involved in the decision to place the barriers. When asked if liability concerns drove the decision, she responded, "It's inappropriate to answer that question at this time." She added that she would not discuss any legal concerns the city may have.
The council was informed of the decision via email. Bodway declined to explain the message to the council in those emails.