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18-year-old driver dies at Carlos Corners

A Chevrolet Celebrity and a semitrailer carrying a load of gravel collided at the Carlos Corners intersection north of Alexandria Friday afternoon. The impact carried both vehicles into the ditch near the Tesoro gas station. Echo Press photo by Al Edenloff.

A two-vehicle crash at Carlos Corners Friday afternoon killed one of the drivers.

The victim was Jamie A. Sear, an 18-year-old woman from Milbank, South Dakota, according to the State Patrol.

The accident happened at the intersection of Highway 29 and County Roads 13 and 42, seven miles north of Alexandria at about 3:30 p.m.

Sear was driving a Chevrolet Celebrity westbound on County Road 13. She stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded onto Highway 29 to go south.

She turned in front of a northbound semitrailer carrying a load of dirt or gravel, according to the State Patrol.

The semitrailer struck the Chevrolet on the driver's side, jack-knifed and tipped over, spilling mounds of dirt onto the highway.

Sear died at the scene. A student at Alexandria Technical College, Sear was studying fashion management and was one of the organizers of this year's fall fashion show, a fundraiser for the local food shelf, scheduled for today, November 5 at 1 p.m. at the ATC 743 auditorium.

The college is dedicating the fashion show to Sear, who worked on the music for the show and helped the models. Students created red polka dot ribbons that they will wear in her honor. They're also collecting donations to give to the family.

The ATC is also organizing a bus trip for the students to attend Sear's funeral in Milbank at 3 p.m. Thursday.

The driver of the semi, Gordon Bartels, 45, of Eagle Bend, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, according to the State Patrol.

Both drivers were wearing seat belts and were traveling alone.

Traffic through the crash area was reduced to one lane to allow clean-up crews and rescue units to respond.

The Carlos Fire Department, First Responders, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, North Ambulance and the State Patrol all responded to the crash.

A deadly crossing

Although there are no apparent visibility problems at the Carlos Corners intersection and it contains flat stretches of road in all directions, it has been the scene of more than a few serious crashes and fatalities over the years.

Six people - five of them in their teens - have now died in five separate accidents either at the intersection or near it since 1999.

Here's a list of the four other fatal crashes that happened before last Friday's accident:

• December 7, 1999 - Timothy Venzke, 17, of Carlos was killed in a two-vehicle crash at Carlos Corners. Driving west, he pulled into the path of a pickup truck. A semitrailer in the northbound lane blocked his view, according to the crash report.

• July 7, 2001 - Benjamin Noon, 19, of Wadena was killed in a three-vehicle accident just north of Carlos Corners. A Honda was stopped on Highway 29 waiting to make a left turn when it was struck from behind. The collision drove the Honda into the path of Noon's pickup, which went into the ditch and rolled over. Noon, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle.

• March 11, 2005 - Nicole Bryniarski, 17, was killed in a two-vehicle crash just south of Carlos Corners. She was a passenger in a Pontiac Sunfire that was struck head-on by a Toyota Landrover that hit a patch of ice and crossed over the centerline. She was not wearing a seat belt.

• March 23, 2005 - Fourteen-year-old Ronald Rechtzigel of Carlos was riding with his 17-year-old brother in a Chevrolet Cavalier when they left the Citgo gas station at Carlos Corners and turned south onto Highway 29. They crossed into the oncoming lane and collided head-on with a Pontiac 6000 driven by Leonard Zuhlsdorf, 81, of Parkers Prairie, according to the State Patrol. Zuhlsdorf, who was not wearing a seat belt, and Rechtzigel, who was buckled up, were both killed.

In the summer of 2005, the Douglas County Board was so concerned about the safety of the intersection that it contacted Carol Molnau, who was the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, to see if the stretch of highway could be made safer.

Her response: Possible solutions exist but they would require money and time.

Some of the ideas discussed - and their drawbacks - included:

• Reducing the access points onto Highway 29 from nearby businesses. MnDOT, however, doesn't normally force access closures without doing a new project in the area or without buying right of way.

• Adding left turn lanes on Highway 29. MnDOT normally doesn't do this type of project. It would require buying more right of way, which at the time, was estimated to cost $300,000.

• Installing rumble strips to alert drivers of the stop signs on County Roads 13 and 42. This would be up to the county to install and wouldn't resolve the problem - the fatal crashes were not caused by drivers blowing through the stop signs.

• Flashing beacons on the stop signs or a flashing sign on Highway 29 warning drivers of a crossroad ahead. The county would have to install the beacons and it would be MnDOT's responsibility to put in the advanced warning sign, but neither approach was deemed to be effective because the highway already has good sight distance.

• A four-lane Highway 29. MnDOT knows that traffic has increased dramatically on the road. But according to actual crash report data, it's not as dangerous as it appears to be, Molnau told the county in 2005. Although more than 100 crashes were reported along Highway 29 between Alexandria and Miltona from 2000 to 2004, the crash rate was just below the state average crash rate for similar segments of highway.

MnDOT's long-range plan for the road, according to information passed on to the county in 2005, was to at least widen the shoulders on Highway 29 from Alexandria to Parkers Prairie - and possibly adding left turn lanes at selected intersections - sometime between 2015 and 2023.