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Two dead after minivan collides head-on with semi on I-29

Two people were killed Tuesday morning when this van hit a semi-truck south of Grandin, N.D. David Samson/The Forum

An 11-year-old girl and her father from Edmonton, Alberta, died and her mother was airlifted to a Fargo hospital Tuesday after their minivan crossed the median on Interstate 29 north of Fargo and hit a semi truck head-on, the state Highway Patrol said.

The patrol said the Ford Windstar minivan was southbound on I-29 at 8:05 a.m. at mile marker 90 between Grandin and Gardner when it drove off the roadway to the right, overcorrected to the left and skidded through the median into the path of the northbound semi.

The van's 43-year-old driver and his daughter in the rear passenger seat died at the scene.

The 43-year-old woman in the front passenger seat was airlifted to MeritCare Hospital. She was talking at the scene, and the extent of her injuries was unknown, patrol Sgt. Troy Hischer said.

Names are expected to be released today.

The semi's driver, Gary F. Zinck, 61, of Jamestown, was not injured.

Hischer said the cause of the crash did not appear to be mechanical and was likely driver error. The woman told authorities she was sleeping until just before the crash, he said.

"So, she wasn't really able to tell us what was going on with the driver," Hischer said.

Several states, including Minnesota, have installed cable median barriers in high-crash areas to prevent such accidents.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation currently has no plans to install cable median barriers, said Kevin Gorder, assistant engineer for the DOT's Fargo district.

A DOT team that reviews fatal accidents will review Tuesday's crash, he said.

"If there's anything we can do to implement safety or do something different based on existing policies, then we will make recommendations to see where we go from there," he said.

Cross-median crashes are rare in North Dakota, Gorder said.

Of the roughly 80,000 crashes reported statewide on North Dakota roads during the past five years, 22 were cross-median crashes, with one prior to Tuesday's crash resulting in a fatality, he said.

The state uses concrete or metal-beam barriers on interstates in some urban areas, including Fargo.

One reason cable median barriers are used in more rural areas of other states but not in North Dakota is that the state has wider medians - usually a minimum of 84 feet from centerline to centerline, and sometimes as wide as 104 feet, Gorder said.

Minnesota installs cable median barriers based on traffic volumes, speed and crash statistics, said Kent Barnard, communication specialist for the Minnesota Department of Transportation's metro district.

Cable median barriers cost about $1 million per mile, but they're cheaper than concrete barriers and have allowed MnDOT to protect many more miles of roadway, Barnard said.

In Washington, the state found that cable median barriers reduced fatal cross-median crashes by almost 90 percent and cut disabling crashes by about 50 percent, resulting in an overall benefit of $420,000 per mile annually, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The downside, Barnard said, is that cable barriers require more maintenance than concrete barriers. Vehicles hitting the barriers can dislodge poles or de-tension the cables.

And, while they may prevent more serious injury accidents, cable barriers can cause more property-damage accidents as they're hit by vehicles that otherwise would have been able to recover and get back onto the road, Gorder and Barnard said.

Minnesota officials know from accidents caught on traffic cameras that the cable median barriers have saved lives, and the state continues to upgrade the barriers, Barnard said.

"It is going to continue to be a product that we are going to use in the future, just because we know it works," he said.

Cable barriers have been used since the 1960s, but it wasn't until the 1980s that some states started using a modified cable rail as a median barrier, according to the FHA's Web site.

Other states installing cable median barriers include Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah.