Star runner killed along Otsego roadway while jogging

by Clay Sawatzke

ECM Sun Publications

Phillip LaVallee, a 2012 Monticello High School graduate who was preparing to begin his sophomore year at South Dakota State University, was hit and killed by a van while out for a run on Aug. 8 in the 8300 block of County Road 19 in Otsego.

The initial investigation indicates that a 2007 Toyota van was northbound on County Road 19 when it crossed over the center line and struck the Otsego man while he was jogging on the southbound shoulder of the road.

Phil LaVallee during the 2013 Riverfest 5K that he won back-to-back years.
Phil LaVallee during the 2013 Riverfest 5K that he won back-to-back years.

LaVallee was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the van, Linda Louise Gullickson, 67, of Albertville, was airlifted to North Memorial in Robbinsdale by North Air Care for injuries sustained in the accident. The incident remains under investigation by the Wright County Sheriff’s Office and the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office.

As a runner for the Monticello Magic, LaVallee broke school records in cross-country, as well as three different track events (the 400-meter, 800-meter and 3,200-meter relay). During his freshman season at SDSU, LaVallee finished the year with a 15th place finish at the conference meet, helping the Jackrabbits to their third straight team title.

As a student, LaVallee had a GPA over 3.6, earning a spot on the Summit League’s Distinguished Scholar list.  As an athlete, a student and a person, he was a role model to many.

“As a runner, Phil’s records speak for themselves,” said his former cross-country and track coach Dave Wik. “He had the perfect package of things. He had the gift, and he had the intangibles, the determination, the drive.”

Yet, LaVallee was never boastful, never cocky, but always approachable, according to Wik. He has heard many of his peers looked up to him, Wik said.

Approximately 200 friends, family members and fellow runners gathered at Monticello High School on Aug. 9, hugging and sharing stories with smiles between tears, before taking off on a 3.5 mile run through town in LaVallee’s memory. Many wore orange, the color of LaVallee’s favorite running shirt. Some carried signs, with messages such as “Run 4 Phil,” “Run in peace,” and “Brother. Friend. Champion.”

The run ended with a final lap around the Monticello Middle School track.

Following the run, everyone gathered to light candles around the track, before sharing more stories and memories of LaVallee and all the quirks that made him dominant, admirable and lovable all at the same time.

“He had a vision and goals,” said Wik. “You just knew that he was chasing great things. He was just at the tip of the iceberg.”