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Pierce County road accidents claimed nine lives in 2010

Except that they all involved motor vehicles, there seem to be few commonalities in the nine road fatalities recorded in Pierce County last year.

Those who died in 2010 ranged from a middle-aged man fleeing deputies at 2 a.m. to an elderly woman crossing a city street with her husband at her side on a Sunday morning.

One thing that is consistent is the number -- nine people died on Pierce County roads in each 2010, 2009 and 2008. That compares to 10 in 2007 and five in 2006.

Eight of the nine 2010 deaths occurred on country roads. One was on a city street. Seven were men. Two were women. Two were Minnesotans. Seven were local residents.

Ages ranged from 22 to 86. One fatality was a pedestrian. Two of those killed were riding motorcycles. Six of the accidents involved only one vehicle.

Four of the fatalities occurred on Fridays, two on Sundays, and one each on a Monday, a Thursday and a Saturday. The accidents occurred early morning, late morning, late afternoon and evening.

"Our fatals are mainly alcohol-related or motorcycles" and usually happen when a driver is not paying attention, said Sheriff Nancy Hove.

She said the area is seeing more motorcycle accidents because there are more motorcycles on Pierce roads as the county's scenic drives, rolling roads and organized runs draw more cyclists.

Though the accident reports don't show it, a majority of the county's fatal accidents involve alcohol use, said Hove.

Often if only one person was involved and no one else was injured, alcohol levels of the deceased aren't checked, said Hove.

"There's no reason," she said. "It doesn't matter. They're dead."

If other people were involved, blood is drawn and alcohol levels of the drivers and the deceased are checked.

The medical examiner and a Sheriff's Department investigator are called to all fatal accidents to conduct a full investigation and "walk the scene," said Hove.

"We try to figure out what happened," she said simply. That investigation involves taking measurements, finding out where the drivers have been and where they were going and talking to witnesses if there were any.

"Then we kind of meet as a team (medical examiner, deputies and investigator) and see if we're all on the same page -- usually right at the scene while everybody is standing there,"' said Hove.

The fatal accidents happened at different times and places, but they all likely could have been avoided.

While some could have been prevented if drivers hadn't drank before hitting the road or if motorists were more alert to motorcyclists, caution could probably have prevented all of them, said Hove.

"Just be careful," she warned. "It takes a split second for something to happen -- whether you're drunk or sober."

Icy or snow-covered winter roads present special hazards, said Hove.

"It doesn't take anything," she warned. "One little slip of the car and next thing you're in someone else's lane or you're in the ditch.

"Try to stay as focused as you can."

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reports that 564 people died in traffic accidents in the state in 2010. That marks the third consecutive year Wisconsin has had fewer than 600 deaths.

According to numbers on the DOT website, Wisconsin averaged 762 traffic deaths per year from 1995 to 2007. The count dropped to 587 in 2008 and was 542 in 2009.

Pierce County 2010 traffic fatalities

  • Feb. 1 -- Dennis M. Rud, 55, Beldenville; single car; 2 a.m.; County Road N, north of El Paso.
  • April 17 -- Lori A. Sobania, 50, Oakdale, Minn.; car vs. motorcycle; 11:22 a.m.; Hwy. 35, town of Oak Grove.
  • >May 21 -- Andrew J. Lindberg, 24, River Falls; head-on two-vehicle; 4:09 a.m.; Hwy. 65, town of River Falls.
  • June 24 -- Tony G. Preuhs, 44, Pepin; motorcycle vs. minivan; 7:11 p.m.; 530th Street, town of Isabelle.
  • July 23 -- Keith H. Marks, 32, Maiden Rock; single vehicle; 10:45 p.m.; 380th Street, town of Maiden Rock.
  • Aug. 15 -- Margaret Brown, 86; Prescott; van vs. pedestrian; 10:41 a.m.; Broad Street, city of Prescott.
  • Oct. 9 -- Donald R. Opdahl, 65, Minneota, Minn.; single vehicle; 5:39 p.m.; County Road VV, town of Trenton.
  • Oct. 15 -- Lyle J. Feenstra, 45, Bay City; single vehicle; 9:05 p.m.; 170th Avenue, town of Isabelle.
  • Oct. 17 -- Alex P. Skog, 22, Ellsworth; single vehicle; 4:10 a.m.; 37th Avenue, town of Salem.
Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.