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Officials: travel advisories serious business

Tuesday's fatal crash on Interstate 29 near Hillsboro, N.D., should send a message to drivers, said Jim Prochniak.

"It certainly puts an exclamation point, when we're saying 'no travel advised or road closed,' we certainly do mean that," said Prochniak, a captain with the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Interstate 29 had been closed about half an hour when Tuesday's crash occurred about 4:30 p.m.

Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker had stopped his SUV to assist a pair of stranded women when a semi ran into the back of his SUV and also struck one of the stranded women, both of whom were walking towards Crocker's vehicle.

The victim, Cassandra DeVaney, 20, Watertown, S.D., was killed.

Crocker was listed in satisfactory condition Wednesday at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo.

The driver of the semi, Alexander Santana, 38, Cape Coral, Fla., wasn't injured.

As of Wednesday, it wasn't known if the vehicles entered the interstate before or after it was closed.

No one has been charged in the crash, but Prochniak said the case will be forwarded to the Traill County State's Attorney for review.

There is a $20 fine for going around a road closure gate, according to Prochniak, who said when the Highway Patrol is dealing with a blizzard, writing tickets takes a back seat to rescuing stranded motorists and clearing roads to get traffic moving.

"Quite frankly, we typically don't seek that," said Prochniak, who estimated that during the storm troopers may have cited 20 drivers who went around road closure gates.

When the Highway Patrol received a report early Wednesday that six to 10 semis were driving southbound in a convoy on Interstate 29, which was supposed to be closed, Prochniak said it was decided they would not be pursued.

"I have to use my resources toward opening the corridors of the interstate system and we just let these trucks go," he said, adding that at the time he had troopers manning closure gates to prevent vehicles from interfering with snow removal efforts.

Troopers also were working to clear stalled cars from highways and looking for stranded motorists, he said.

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said his department dealt with a surprisingly low number of people who needed rescuing during the storm.

There was one notable exception: a group of four adults from the Hawley, Minn., area who got stuck after they ventured into Tuesday's blizzard to get milk.

The individuals were not dressed for the weather and the batteries in their cell phones were running out of power about the time they were rescued, an effort that took about 2½ hours and required use of a county plow.

Bergquist said the sheriff's department is talking with the Clay County Attorney's Office about billing the individuals for the cost of the rescue under an ordinance that allows the county to recuperate rescue costs in cases where travel advisories have been issued.

Prochniak, of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, said a major problem area during the storm was Highway 46 south and west of Fargo, from Leonard to about Litchville.

He said about half a dozen semis and a few other vehicles became stuck.

In some cases, truck drivers who were in cell phone contact with authorities decided to spend Tuesday night in their stuck rigs.

Others were rescued by troopers who used whatever means they could to reach the stranded.

It was clear, Prochniak said, that many of those who became stuck during Tuesday's storm did not have good reason to be on the road.

"They certainly put some of their lives in jeopardy," said Prochniak, adding such drivers place other motorists and law enforcement officers in danger as well.

The stress can get to troopers, he added.

"I've got some guys that have worked well over 20 hours straight," he said. "After a couple days of this, we're human like anybody else. Patience at times can grow thin."

Dave Olson
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