The number of state troopers and their squad cars hit by vehicles on Minnesota roads in the past four months has surged to 31, with eight of these crashes occurring just since Sunday, officials said.
The troubling tally has prompted the State Patrol to call a news conference for Wednesday, when two of the troopers hit Monday will talk about their close calls on Twin Cities highways.
The primary message from the patrol will be educating drivers about the state's "Move Over" law. It requires motorists to keep a full lane away when passing a stopped ambulance, firetruck or law enforcement vehicle. If the lane change can't be made safely, drivers must slow down.
The same requirements apply to emergency maintenance and construction vehicles, if their warning lights are flashing.
Defying the law could mean a $120 ticket. From 2005 to 2009, the patrol cited 9,173 motorists for "Move Over" violations.
Since Nov. 1, the patrol reports that 31 of its troopers have been struck. That compares with 13 for the same time period a year ago.
Many of the incidents in recent days have come when roads have been snowy and icy. Often, the troopers have been on shoulders responding to crashes or disabled vehicles.
Tuesday morning, trooper Nathaniel Walton was in his squad car along icy Highway 14 near Nicollet in southern Minnesota providing traffic control as a vehicle was being towed out of a ditch. A semitrailer truck came by, and a trailer it was pulling swung out and hit the trooper's car. Walton escaped unscathed.
Then on Tuesday night, a trooper in his squad car was hit and injured after arresting a suspected drunken driver along I-694 near Silver Lake Road in New Brighton, said Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske.
After the trooper put the driver in the squad's back seat, he was hit was by another vehicle before he could get behind the wheel, Roeske said. The trooper was hospitalized with facial injuries, the lieutenant said.
This week marks the 33rd anniversary of the death of trooper Roger Williams, who was struck and killed by an out-of-control vehicle while helping a motorist with a flat tire on Interstate 94 near Alexandria. Williams had been with the Patrol for 26 years.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service