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Stutsman County sheriff escapes injury as eight vehicles crash in blinding snow, injuring three on I-94 in south-central North Dakota

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MEDINA — An accident in the blinding snow on Interstate 94 in south-central North Dakota on Monday afternoon, March 4, near Medina was the start to a series of crashes involving eight vehicles, three injuries and a near-hit on the Stutsman County sheriff, who was directing traffic.

The series of events started at about 1:20 p.m. on I-94 west of Medina, about 30 miles west of Jamestown, when a 2007 Toyota Corolla driven by Odillio Barrientos Villeda of Portland, Ore., was westbound at a slow speed due to near-zero visibility caused by blowing snow in a state-issued no-travel advisory.

A semi-truck driven by Benjamin Grant of Milwaukee, slowed to follow Villeda. Then, another semi, driven by Donald Powel of Mandan approached the two vehicles from the rear at a higher speed and veered left, attempting to avoid a crash, the North Dakota Highway Patrol said in a news release late Monday night.

Powel's semi, however, sideswiped Grant's semitrailer and veered back into the other lane, striking Villeda's car.

Villeda's car was then pushed into the north ditch, while Powel's semi also came to rest in the same ditch as well as blocking a lane on the interstate.

Traffic was restricted to one lane for nearly an hour while the vehicles were towed from the scene.

The series of crashes and injuries wasn't over yet, however.

At about 3 p.m., one mile east of the scene of the other crashes on the interstate, two snowplows and two patrol vehicles used flashing lights to slow westbound traffic as it neared he the crash scene as near-zero visibility continued.

At the scene of the flashing lights, a 2016 Ford Fusion driven by Brad Thingvold of Bismarck slowed and came to a stop, the patrol said. His vehicle was then struck from behind by a 2018 Ford Fusion driven by Thomas Haas of Fargo.

Sheriff Chad Kaiser stood outside of his 2019 Chevrolet Silverado patrol vehicle to direct traffic at the scene.

Drivers were stopped in one lane while others were going full speed in the moving lane, Kaiser said. A 2016 Chevrolet Malibu driven by Traci Kelm of Sioux Falls, S.D., sideswiped Kaiser’s Silverado and brushed Kaiser’s leg as he tried to out of the way, he said. The Malibu then rear-ended a 1996 Peterbilt driven by Bradley Kupser of Zimmerman, Minn.

“When you are trying to go onto a moving lane traffic you just have to be aware of your surroundings,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser said he was not injured. There was some damage to the bumper, rear quarter panel and box but the truck was still driveable, he said.

Kaiser said Tuesday that it was one of those events where by the time he saw what was happening it had already happened. It was a close call that could have been worse but it turned out not to be a big deal, because the other drivers involved were not seriously hurt, he said.

“It was just another day in the life of working in nasty weather,” Kaiser said. “The visibility was very poor and sometimes you could see and sometimes you couldn't.”

It isn’t unusual for hazardous situations to develop suddenly when lanes are closed to move emergency vehicles in and out to clear a crash scene, he said. Vehicles were speeding up once they passed through the crash scene and were unaware of another crash less than a mile away, he said.

Three of the motorists were transported by the Medina ambulance to the Jamestown Regional Medical Center for injuries that weren't life-threatening, the Highway Patrol said. The three who were injured were not named.

The crashes remain under investigation.

Tom LaVenture of the Jamestown Sun contributed to this report.

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