3 days, 3 crashes, 1 death

An 8-year-old girl died Wednesday after a three-vehicle crash that happened as a Fargo street crew was on its way to fix a rut blamed for two crashes in two days in the same stretch of South University Drive.

Car Crash
Dave Wallis / The Forum An 8-year-old girl was killed as a result of this traffic accident Wednesday on University Drive between 40th and 52nd avenues south.

An 8-year-old girl died Wednesday after a three-vehicle crash that happened as a Fargo street crew was on its way to fix a rut blamed for two crashes in two days in the same stretch of South University Drive.

Amanda Leininger of Fargo died about 2 p.m. at Innovis Health, said Fargo Police Sgt. Jeff Skuza.

Her sister, 15-year-old Jessica M. Leininger, driving the Mercury Sable hit near El Cano Drive about 7:50 a.m., remained at Innovis on Wednesday evening. The family requested that her condition not be released, said hospital spokeswoman Kris Olson.

The occupants of the other two vehicles, a minivan and a sport utility vehicle, were not injured.

It was the third accident in as many days near the intersection four blocks south of 40th Avenue.


After Monday's crash, police notified the city's street department of the rut where the southbound lane meets the shoulder, Skuza said.

In that incident, 16-year-old Collin Schott was driving to Shanley High School about 7:45 a.m. when his tires got caught in the rut.

"I guess I got scared, and then I tried to move back onto the road, but then I had a hard time," Schott said. "That caused me to turn harder, and that kind of caused me to spin out as I was trying to get out of the rut."

Schott's car was totaled when struck by northbound traffic, but he wasn't injured. He said the snowy and slippery road conditions - not unlike Wednesday morning's conditions - played a part in the crash.

"I couldn't really tell where the roads were, 'cause it was covered in snow," he said. "That probably caused me to move over to the right more."

Another car's front tire got caught in the rut about 6:50 a.m. Tuesday, Skuza said. The driver overcorrected, causing the vehicle to go into the opposite ditch and hit a bike path sign. She also was not injured.

Police don't know if the rut caused Wednesday's accident, which remains under investigation, Skuza said.

"We're looking at all possibilities," he said. "Road conditions are one of them."


The speed limit is 45 mph in that area.

Did fix take too long?

Fargo Public Works Operations Manager Al Weigel said his office received an e-mail midday Tuesday about the crash that morning, and a business owner called about it that afternoon.

Staff inspected the rut and planned to use ground-up asphalt to repair it, but the pile of fill was frozen, he said.

"So, we decided that the best fix for that would be to get our mill out of cold storage and actually re-mill that shoulder up and add some material and pack it back in," he said.

They brought the mill machine inside to warm it up, Weigel said. Crews planned to repair the rut after rush hour Wednesday morning.

"Our whole crew was halfway to that area when that accident happened," he said.

Debbie Helbling, who lives on El Cano Drive, said she is "furious" about Wednesday's accident because she called city officials Monday, Tuesday and early Wednesday, warning that someone would be seriously injured if the rut wasn't fixed. Her SUV's tires got caught in the rut Monday, but she was able to steer her way out of it, she said.


"I think the city should be held liable for their negligence in any one of those accidents," she said.

Weigel said the rut was about the width of a tire and was likely formed by a vehicle's tires slipping off the edge of the paved southbound lane and onto the gravel shoulder sometime this fall, before the ground froze.

The rut was almost level with the paved road surface in some places and about "a couple inches" deep in other places, he said. Portions of the road's shoulder also were already paved before Wednesday's repairs, he said.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker called the accident "a real tragedy" and extended sympathies to the family.

"We're extremely devastated that this accident happened in the city of Fargo," he said.

The city took action to address the problem, he noted.

"There was some process there. Is 48 hours quick enough?" he said, not answering his own question.

Walaker said he drives South University Drive about three times per week and was unaware of the rut. Weigel said he didn't know how long the rut had been there.


"It obviously didn't just form, because it's all froze," he said. "I think the biggest issue is snow covered it."

Tire tracks in the northbound lane were close to the center line, which may have made southbound traffic shy toward the shoulder, he said.

Investigators reconstructed the accident and performed skid tests during the roughly five hours that South University Drive was closed between 40th and 52nd avenues Wednesday, Skuza said. They also documented the scene, including photographing the rut before it was fixed after the accident.

At the scene

Preliminary information indicated the girls were in a southbound vehicle that was struck by a northbound vehicle, Skuza said.

Curt Stubstad of Sabin, Minn., said he was driving his son to the dentist when he saw the Mercury Sable spinning into the ditch on the east side of University Drive.

Stubstad, a former emergency medical technician, said he rushed to the Sable and found both girls unresponsive. He said it appeared Amanda had been thrown from the passenger side - which was caved in by the impact - to the driver's side.

Stubstad said he had to break both rear windows to reach Amanda. Jessica regained consciousness, but her sister remained unresponsive, he said, adding that both girls were wearing seat belts.


"I put my coat under her head and stuff to try to get her head leveled out, because she was just in such a contorted position," he said.

Skuza identified the occupants of the SUV and minivan as Margaret Berreth, 61, of Fargo and Carolyn Shook, 55, of Horace.

No one was cited or arrested after the crash, he said.

Other accidents here this week

- Monday: A 16-year-old driver's car tires got caught in the rut. His car was totaled after being struck by northbound traffic. The driver was not injured.

- Tuesday: A driver overcorrected after the front tire found the rut and the vehicle went into the opposite ditch. The driver was not hurt.

What To Read Next
Get Local