Amanda Lillie, Austin Daily Herald –
The number of traffic-related deaths in Minnesota nose-dived in 2011, with three of the fatal crashes taking place in Mower County.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 349 people died in crashes on Minnesota roads in 2011, as opposed to 411 in 2010. A few more fatal crash reports are expected to trickle in during the next few months before the final numbers are released in early summer. The preliminary figure of 349 is the least number of traffic deaths since 1944, when 356 deaths were reported.
Mower County roads saw three fatalities in 2011, compared to four in 2010. Joseph Lewison, 18, was killed in February 2011 after his truck collided with a train south of Austin. Penny Engelman, 31, died when her car collided with a school bus taking a wedding party from Blooming Prairie to Austin in May. Randy Lukes, 53, was killed when his pickup rolled and burst into flames on County Road 4 in late June.
Mower County’s number of traffic deaths was similar to surrounding counties that saw two or three fatalities in 2011. However, Mower County had a much higher number of DWI arrests compared to area counties.
Sheriff Terese Amazi attributed the high number of DWI arrests to good enforcement in the area. She said getting drunk drivers off the road is a priority, and both the Austin Police Department and Mower County Sheriff’s Office frequently have enhanced enforcement for the sole purpose of catching drunk drivers.