by Jim Boyle
Three Zimmerman firefighters narrowly escaped injury when the rescue truck they were parked in was rear-ended by a motorist Monday on a slippery stretch of Highway 169 near 239th Avenue.
Just moments before the crash the men had been standing at the back of the truck. That’s when firefighter Jeremy Lee ordered everyone to move to the front of the truck and buckle up.
“If the crash happened two minutes earlier it could have been really bad,” said Zimmerman Fire Chief Ryan Maloney.
Joshua Malinowski, 21, of Oak Park, had attempted to stop and began to skid while traffic was slowing due to the accident. The driver pulled into the right lane and slid into the parked fire truck, according to the Sherburne County sheriff’s report.
There were no injuries and apparently no citations.
The fire department had been responding to a report of vehicle rollover that came in at 11:25 a.m. Feb. 21 in the vicinity of Highway 169 and 237th Avenue. The initial caller thought extrication would be needed.
When emergency personnel arrived at the scene the occupants of the vehicle had made it out of the van that had rolled. Lainey Ollila, 18, of Ramsey, was the driver. Anne Baldwin, 46, of Elk River, was a passenger.
Zimmerman’s rescue truck has not been the only emergency vehicle to be hit of late. There has been a rash of state troopers and their squad cars hit by vehicles on Minnesota roads in the past four months. Thirty-one to be exact, including eight since Feb. 20, officials for the Minnesota State Patrol said.
The troubling tally prompted the State Patrol to call a news conference for Wednesday that included two of the troopers hit Monday on Twin Cities highways.
The point of the conference was to educate drivers about the state’s “Move Over” law.
Ironically, information has been in two recent editions of the Star News, including last Saturday’s Ask the Chief column by Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe.
The law calls for motorists to keep a full lane away when passing a stopped ambulance, fire truck or law enforcement vehicle.
If the lane change can’t be made safely, drivers must slow down.
Maloney said in the case of the Zimmerman crash involving a fire truck, the driver had been in the lane he was supposed to be in but might have been going too fast as the driver pulled into the right lane once he couldn’t stop in time. That’s when he struck the fire truck.
The same requirements in the “Move Over” law 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, according to a report in the Star Tribune.
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.
“It doesn’t matter the road conditions; drivers need to pay attention,” Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske told the Star Tribune “A majority of troopers have been hit because people were not paying attention or driving too fast. Drivers need to be alert for flashing lights and move over to ensure we can do our jobs safely and the people we are helping are out of danger.”
Incidentally, 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.