CROOKSTON – The downtown Crookston intersection where 10-year-old Kaylee Acevedo this week was hit and dragged by a semi has a history of being dangerous. It's the same intersection where former Crookston City Council member Bobby Baird was hit by a car in 2018, and where Ramona Unke was hit by a semi and killed in 2008.
The sharp right turn at North Broadway and Robert Street is where U.S. Highway 2 enters downtown Crookston. For years, some residents say, locals have known how dangerous downtown Crookston is, but little change to the area has been made.
Todd Strem, an insurance agent at Donald Boone American Family Insurance on South Broadway, said certain intersections in town are known for being dangerous. One-way streets and the town’s layout don't help.
“Confusion of one-ways is one part of it,” said Strem. “I can sit here on any given week and at least three times we see a vehicle go the wrong way, and we’ve seen semis go the wrong way. It’s common. It’s not once in a while, it’s weekly.”
Crookston residents like Corene Everett have long been advocating for change in the downtown area. This week, Everett wrote a letter to the Crookston Times expressing her frustration with the lack of action from the city to make downtown Crookston safer for cyclists and pedestrians. As a member of Bike Crookston, a community working group that advocates for bike access, education and infrastructure, Everett had met with the city about making Crookston’s downtown safer. She says the City Council was not responsive to the group’s ideas to calm traffic in the area.
“I have been advocating for this for a long time, and as I said in my letter, nothing downtown has been altered, and I feel like this accident was preventable,” said Everett. “We can make all the plans we want, but we have to make changes as soon as possible because I don’t want any more accidents.”
Philip Barton, another member of Bike Crookston, has lived in the town for around 30 years and remembers being warned as a child about downtown’s dangers. Like Everett, he has advocated to make downtown more walkable and safer for bicyclists.
According to Barton, the only safety addition to the intersection of North Broadway and Robert Street in recent years was the installation of a signal that flashes a message prohibiting a right turn onto North Broadway during a red light when a pedestrian hits the button at the intersection.
“Signs only matter to people who pay attention to them. We’re all certainly aware there are people who don’t pay attention to signs, either with intention or absentmindedly,” said Barton.
Instead of more signs, he believes downtown needs structural change.
Acevedo was on her bicycle on the sidewalk when she was struck by the semi, according to Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow. The semi was traveling westbound on Highway 2 at about 5:30 p.m. when it attempted to turn onto North Broadway. When the back of the truck entered the sidewalk during the turn, Acevedo became entangled in its back tires, according to police. She was dragged about a block and a half.
She was taken to RiverView Health in Crookston, and was later air-lifted to Sanford in Fargo. As of earlier this week, the investigation was ongoing and the driver of the truck, Duane Schouveiller, of Mahnomen, Minn., had not been charged.
For some Crookston residents, the mishap inspired them to speak up. Melissa Casanova, a mother of three, believes if more trucks took the detour around Crookston instead of following Highway 2 through town, it would reduce the number of accidents that happen in the downtown area. While many in the community are voicing concerns to the city, she believes state government may be able to help.
On Tuesday, Casanova emailed the Minnesota Department of Transportation, inquiring how to get extra signage posted at the Highway 2 truck bypass outside of town so more truck drivers take the alternate route. She says she has been connected with MnDOT staff in the area, but has not heard back from them.
Casanova says her daughter was almost caught in a similar incident to the one that injured Acevedo, but was able to step back from the corner and not get hit. She has often seen cars and trucks clip downtown corners.
“Trucks cannot safely navigate that corner. It’s too tight,” said Casanova. “It’s not engineered for those big trucks. If they can be going around, they should be going around.”
Barton also believes truck routes need to be more clearly communicated to semi drivers.
“We have a bypass for Highway 75 and a bypass for Highway 2, and I am certain that if anyone just picked a random semi and followed it through town, the odds are the semi is not stopping anywhere in town,” said Barton. “It’s just driving through downtown because that's the route their GPS picked out or because that’s the route they believe is the fastest.”
Amy Finch, city administrator, said the city recently selected a consulting firm for a MnDOT corridor study of Highway 2 through downtown Crookston, but until results of that study are released, no change can be made.
Crookston Mayor Dale Stainbrook said Chief of Police Paul Biermaier and Finch have plans to meet with MnDOT early next week to discuss Highway 2 and mentioned the MnDOT corridor study, but declined to comment further on any immediate plans for the highway.
Acevedo was hospitalized in Fargo, where she remains recovering from her injuries. A benefit ride to raise funds for Acevedo and her family is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 16.