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Accident witness said crash happened 'in a flash'

This was the scene of a fatal crash Thursday night on Highway 34 a couple miles east of Park Rapids. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Late Thursday afternoon Amy Yerkes was headed home to Nevis.

A maroon Windstar pulled onto Highway 34 from the Walmart parking lot in Park Rapids.

Yerkes was at L&M Fleet buying lighting for the house she's purchasing.

The two vehicles headed east, the Windstar ahead of Yerkes' car.

"It was one of those fluke things," Yerkes, still shaken, recalled.

"In a flash" the vehicle in front of her was involved in a head-on crash near the Dorset Corner.

"As the two vehicles collided they split apart and I went right through at 62 miles an hour," Yerkes said. The next hour was a blur of lifesaving efforts, Jaws of Life and sadness.

A westbound car driven by 22-year-old Dean James Roehler had crossed the centerline and struck the Windstar head on, killing that vehicle's driver, 52-year-old Patricia Ann Borman of Backus.

Roehler was airlifted to a Fargo hospital in critical condition. He is steadily improving, his friends indicate on his Facebook page.

Yerkes noticed the Moondance Jam bracelet still on his wrist. The Park Rapids man was returning home from the first day of the Walker festival.

Alicia Borman and her 4-month-old son were also in the van and escaped serious injury.

Yerkes is now suffering from survivor's guilt.

"I got to walk home, scratch free, dent free, funeral free," she said. "To my parents to my daughter... it shows how quick life is. In a millisecond it could have been a different outcome."

Yerkes describes the accident scene as "pretty horrific."

She played in a weekend wedding but the joy of the occasion was dampened by her experiences on Highway 34.

"I hit the big four-oh in March and I'm worrying about gray hair and all that other stuff and really it's meaningless," she said. "I'm so grateful more lives weren't taken. Anything can change in a second and I'm so grateful to be alive. I guess it wasn't my turn to go."

She spent the weekend checking on Roehler's condition and agonizing over what she witnessed, while trying to go about her life. She can't sleep.

The accident is under investigation. The State Patrol has classified it as "alcohol-related." Tests were performed on Roehler at the scene to detect his alcohol concentration. Several witnesses stopped to render aid at the scene and directed traffic around the vehicles, Yerkes said.

State Patrol officers were conducting an accident reconstruction investigation, taking measurements and photos Thursday night. A mile-long section of highway was shut down for an hour while numerous emergency vehicles raced to the scene.

Yerkes is trying to mend.

"People, take a second and be grateful for the little things in life," she urged.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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