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Fargo girl's death a year ago led to changes in city policies

Amanda Leininger

A year ago today, a car carrying 8-year-old Amanda Leininger hit a rut on the shoulder of Fargo's South University Drive, resulting in a crash that claimed her life.

The tragedy led to a sweeping review of city policies, and changes in how complaints are handled, Public Safety Director Al Weigel said Wednesday.

One internal change - aimed at cutting the confusion that delayed repairs on the rut - is that city crews will no longer worry about whether problems on a road are a state or city responsibility. They'll fix them first, and determine jurisdiction later.

"We won't drive away from it, stating that it is someone else's responsibility," Weigel said. "I've informed our guys they don't need to be afraid to shut down a road.

"I've taken the position that anything within city of Fargo limits, if I feel it's unsafe, I'm not going to ask permission of anybody," he said. "If I need to close the road down, I'll do it. I'll figure out what to do after I've gotten the project to a safe position."

New policies include:

# City departments, particularly public works and engineering, are working together more cohesively, Weigel said. Each of his supervisors has a contact in engineering.

"Communication between the departments has been stressed a lot more," Weigel said.

# Complaints are logged and tracked from first call to final action on spreadsheets to fully document actions.

If an issue is not resolved, it's turned over to senior supervisors, Weigel said.

A supervisor assigns a crew to look at a problem or examines it themselves.

If a hazard is found, supervisors can mark it with cones, or wait for a crew to mark or fix the problem.

If items on the spreadsheet remain unresolved, they go to a higher supervisor or Weigel himself for action, he said.

Problems after business hours are fixed by crews called in, Weigel said.

"They do not go home until the situation is taken care of," Weigel said.

# All rural roads will be assessed annually to determine if there are safety issues to be fixed.

For example, even low-speed roads that have no shoulders or narrow shoulders get delineators - posts with reflectors - to warn drivers of where the edges of the roads are.

Traffic engineer Jeremy Gorden performed a road safety audit in October.

He said he also drives through construction areas more often looking for safety issues, and is more prone to put out more orange warning barrels.

Gorden said that in November, police officers were told to call or e-mail him if they feel road engineering problems contributed to a crash. And for the first time, he has access to the city's crash database.

After last December's crash, Mayor Dennis Walaker told The Forum the rut caused the accident that took Leininger's life.

Walaker could not be reached Wednesday for comment, and city staff said he was in Canada.

A report on the crash made public in early February said complaints about the rut on South University Drive stretched back to October 2008.

This past September, City Attorney Erik Johnson said the city paid $450,000 to the Leininger family to settle claims from the crash.

Roger Fenstad, Amanda Leininger's uncle and the family's spokesman, said neither he nor the rest of the family wished to comment on anything related to the crash and Amanda's death.

Fenstad said the city has not approached the family to ask for their input on improving road safety, nor have they asked to be part of those discussions.