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Roads slow work on big crashes

After a long weekend of treacherous, ice-rink roads that caused hundreds of collisions, law enforcement in the area need time to catch up on accident reports.

After a long weekend of treacherous, ice-rink roads that caused hundreds of collisions, law enforcement in the area need time to catch up on accident reports.

Unfortunately, the roads were still slick enough on Monday that they weren't getting much of a break.

"It's catching some people off guard," said Sgt. Dave Wolf of the North Dakota Highway Patrol. "They're expecting it to be like a summer day."

Wolf said with at least 10 interstate crashes in the metro area alone, troopers didn't have much time on Monday to pool information from the accidents affecting an estimated 100 vehicles west of Fargo on Interstate 94 on Thursday.

Troopers still aren't sure what caused the original crash, but Wolf said they believe about 40 to 50 vehicles ended up being caught in 35 to 40 crashes. Another 50 vehicles were stranded at the accident scene, many of them abandoned where they were forced to stop.


Only one serious injury was reported. Lowell Balk, 45, of Walcott, N.D., remained in critical condition at Essentia Health in Fargo on Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Wolf said there's no estimate available yet, but the property damage from the accident will be steep. It will take at least a week to piece together the accident scene as best as possible, he said.

"You look at the conditions of the vehicles, and you wonder how they got out of there unhurt," Wolf said.

North Dakota troopers weren't the only ones playing catch-up on a pileup. Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney told WDAY-AM talk-show host Jay Thomas that his deputies continued to work on a 20-car accident Thursday on Cass County Road 10.

"We've got some legwork ahead of us," Laney said.

City police in Fargo and Moorhead said road conditions remained poor on Monday, causing an increased number of accidents.

Fargo Lt. Joel Vettel said there were 28 accidents in a stretch from midnight to midafternoon, about twice as many as normal.

In Moorhead, there were 12 crashes from 7 a.m. through midafternoon, said Sgt. Mike Detloff.


Vettel said the problem is the ice is so thick on roads that it's difficult to remove, and piles of snow collected at intersections made visibility limited in places.

"There's just not a lot that can be done to make the roads more drivable," he said.

In the cities, numerous cars were towed from key arterial roads to make way for snowplows. Vettel said Fargo police towed 60 vehicles during the storms and would start towing cars buried on the sides of secondary streets this week.

"We need to get every car off the road at least for a while," he said.

Even when major roads were closed over the weekend, law enforcement was kept busy responding to vehicles.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol cited 66 people for driving on closed roads during the blizzards, said Lt. Jody Skogen. In Minnesota, a trooper cited Dmitri Kilin, 36, of Fargo, for traveling 86 mph on I-94 while it was still closed on Sunday morning, said Trooper Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple even weighed in on the storm response on Monday, commending the troopers, county deputies and other officials for rescuing at least 50 stranded people during the storms.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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