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Rugby man uninjured in Grand Forks fatal multi-vehicle crash

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 10, 2021

A Rugby man and two Devils Lake women were among 17 people involved in a multi-vehicle fatal crash west of Grand Forks the morning of Friday, July 2.

Karl Koehmstedt, Rugby, who was driving a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado pulling a trailer, suffered no injuries in the crash. Devils Lake residents Hilene Cantos and Jennyvie Ariola, who were in a 2018 Toyota RAV 4 stopped behind Koemstedt’s truck suffered minor injuries.

A statement from the North Dakota Highway Patrol said the crash occurred when an eastbound tractor trailer hauling hot asphalt mix on U.S. Highway 2 failed to stop at red light at the intersection of the highway and Airport Road west of Grand Forks. The section of highway is also located in a construction zone where both eastbound and westbound traffic has been moved to the normal eastbound lanes and travels head to head in two lanes.

Seven vehicles were stopped at the red light in the eastbound lane of the highway when the tractor-trailer, driven by Steven Piechowski of Felton, Minn., struck the rear of a 2006 Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Eric Jayne, Des Moines, Iowa. The collision set off an apparent chain reaction involving the seven vehicles at the intersection. Jayne died as a result of injuries received in the crash.

Koehmstedt, who was traveling to Fargo to deliver his daughter’s property to her new apartment, said he had left Rugby at 4:30 a.m.

Koehmstedt recalled stopping behind one other vehicle at the red light at about 7:30 a.m.

“It takes a long time because that’s where construction is going on,” he said. “So, I’m sitting there waiting and waiting … and all of a sudden, I hear a noise behind me and in a split second, my pickup’s going sideways and the trailer went flying. I had been going east and the pickup ended up facing north and the trailer spun a 180 and was separated from me.”

“I was okay. I was a lucky one. I was further up the line,” he said.

“It was like an accordion effect or a chain reaction,” Kohmstedt said of the crash. “I was number two in line at the stoplight and I would say there were five behind me.”

Koehmstedt said after the crash, he jumped out of his truck to see if he could help the other people in the vehicles scattered into the ditch.

“One lady was in a van and I helped her out of the van. There was an overturned pickup and I and another guy was trying to see how those people were in there,” Koehmstedt said. “That truck was behind me. I was probably loaded up with adrenaline at the time, so I didn’t think much about anything.”

Koehmstedt said firefighters from Grand Forks and the North Dakota Highway Patrol showed up soon after the crash. “They were really fast,” Koehmstedt said.

Seven people in addition to Cantos, Ariola and Piechowski suffered non-life threatening injuries in the crash. All were from eastern North Dakota or out of state.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.

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