St. Paul, Minn. — Roseville police Sgt. Lorne Rosand describes the series of crashes Sunday as "very tragic and just bizarre."
Rosand says the problems started when the 88-year-old woman from Falcon Heights struck an SUV in a Walgreens parking lot. The woman's Mercury Grand Marquis then hit a second SUV in the same lot, this one carrying a 28-year-old pregnant woman.
"She hit that vehicle with such force with her Grand Marquis, that it pushed it up over some shrubbery, the boulevard, across the bicycle/pedestrian pathway, over a curb and into the middle of Lexington Avenue," Rosand says.
Though the pregnant woman was treated for injuries at Regions Hospital, Rosand says she and her fetus are OK.
It's very tragic, and just bizarre.
The Mercury Grand Marquis crossed Lexington Avenue. A witness approached, asking the driver if she was OK. He told police she was gripping the wheel tightly, and suddenly accelerated away.
The car crossed back over Lexington, jumped the curb, careened back into oncoming traffic, and smashed into the passenger side of a third car.
Rosand says that car's two elderly passengers died at the scene. He says the decision of whether to bring charges is in the hands of the Ramsey County Attorney and is still at least a week away.
"The obvious question is why? What happened? Was this some type of a medical condition that this woman suffered? Was this a case of the driver mistaking the gas pedal for a brake pedal? I guess those are some of the questions we have," Rosand says.
The fatalities in Roseville follow a high profile crash in California last July in which an 86-year old driver killed 10 people. He told police he might have mistaken the gas pedal for the brake.
Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee Chair Dean Johnson says lawmakers have been reluctant to increase scrutiny of elderly drivers. The Willmar DFLer says the best approach now is to hold public hearings on the issue before the next legislative session. He says it's important to know the reasons behind the Roseville crash and to hear from law enforcement.
Minnesota drivers have to renew their license every four years. The process includes an eye exam. Johnson says he supports adding a written and a driving test for people 65 and over.
"That's always a difficult thing to do, because the loss of a driver's license is loss of freedom. I know that from family experience. It's very difficult. But I think that we need to be more cognizant of public safety this year, because we've had an unusual number of fatalities and injuries," Johnson says. "I think we need to slow down."
One study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that Minnesota had a slightly higher than average rate of fatal crashes involving drivers age 65 and older. But Minnesota was well below the states with the highest rates. Another study found the US fatality rate for drivers 85 and older is higher than that for 16 year-olds, and nine times the rate for drivers aged 25 through 69.
But the Insurance Information Institute says most insurance companies offer discounts to people 55 or older because they're less likely to drive aggressively or too fast. Al Parsons with the Insurance Federation of Minnesota agrees the issue deserves study, but he says caution is also in order.
"It's useful to note that we have lots of young people getting killed in crashes on our roads. I think our numbers are up this year, and the fact that we have older people creating these sorts of situations that we just read about in the papers here and in California, does not necessarily suggest that we have a pandemic of problem," says Parsons.
Still, he says he'd probably support legislation requiring drivers over 70 to have their license renewed every two years instead of the current four, as a way to increase screening of older drivers.