The driver whose car caused a crash in downtown Grand Forks that led to three deaths appears to have suffered a medical emergency in the moments before the incident.
According to an investigation conducted by the Grand Forks Police Department, Jenessa Kelley, 21, did not have alcohol in her system when the car she was driving collided with four vehicles on DeMers Avenue.
GFPD Lt. Derik Zimmel confirmed that the investigation into the crash has been completed, but said we will likely never know exactly what happened the day of the crash.
"There was nothing medically definitive that was discovered that we can point to a particular condition and say, 'this happened at this moment and time, and this is what caused it,'" Zimmel said. "But it does appear as though she was impacted by some abrupt medical condition which incapacitated her and caused her to impact the vehicle in such a way that caused this massive acceleration through downtown Grand Forks."
Kelley, a Crookston resident, first struck a vehicle multiple times in East Grand Forks just before 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9. After the damaged vehicle pulled off the road, Kelley drove her Buick Regal over the Sorlie Bridge and into Grand Forks at up to 99 mph, Zimmel said. On that stretch of DeMers, the speed limit is 30 mph.
Moments later, she struck a Chevrolet Impala in the Fifth Street intersection, then struck a Ford Explorer, and finally struck a Dodge Caravan in a "near-head-on collision," Zimmel said.
Kelley later died of her injuries at Altru Hospital. Laura Van Erem, 52, and Nancy Sand, 72, of Fertile, Minn., who were both in the Caravan, also died. Kelley's passenger, Shelby Kotrba, 21, and a juvenile passenger in the Caravan were hospitalized.
Police found physical evidence at the scene that suggested Kelley could have possibly been driving under the influence, but family of the victims told the Herald and other media that they did not believe that to be the case.
The crash happened so quickly, Zimmel said, there was likely nothing any of the people involved could have done to prevent it.
"Someone could have been highly vigilant at Fifth and DeMers on that particular day, and still been involved in this," he said. "There simply would not have been much that anyone could have done."