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Snowmobile death, injuries despite it being Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week

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It's a sad irony that this is Minnesota Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week. According to Detroit Lakes Online, a proclamation from Gov. Mark Dayton designated Jan.18-25 as a week to "bring attention to safe snowmobiling in the state," in concert with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association.

The holiday weekend, with its fresh snow and welcome break from the harsh temperatures, offered fine conditions for snowmobilers, but a spate of accidents were recorded as well, including a deadly one. The Associated Press reports a Maple Grove man died in a snowmobile crash near Burtrum in central Minnesota. The Todd County Sheriff's Office said Jared Wallenfelsz, 22, left his family's cabin on Long Lake by snowmobile around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. His body was found later that day. A news release from the sheriff said alcohol, poor visibility and speed were factors in the crash.

WDIO in Duluth reported that an Excelsior man was seriously injured in St. Louis County on Saturday afternoon. Saint Louis County deputies said Hollis Fritts Jr., 59, was injured in the crash. The Duluth News Tribune said Fritts was riding on the Arrowhead Trail when he saw two eastbound snowmobiles coming around a corner at a high rate of speed. When he swerved to avoid them, he hit a snowbank, was thrown from the snowmobile and hit a tree. Fritts was transported by ambulance to Cook Hospital and later was transferred to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, where he was listed in stable condition Sunday.

The St. Cloud Times reports two men were transported to a local hospital they were involved in a two-sled snowmobile collision in Stearns County. Kameron Peck, 22, of St. Joseph, and Benjamin Bardson, 27, of Sartell, were taken by ambulance to Centracare Health-Melrose Hospital here they were treated and later released. The crash, which happened near the town of Freeport, remains under investigation by the sheriff’s office.

The Associated Press reported that a Minnesota man was injured while racing a snowmobile on Clear Lake in northern Iowa. Tyler Hall, 29, of Twin Lakes, Minn., had finished a run as part of the Jack Helgren Memorial Race near Clear Lake State Park on Saturday morning when he lost control of his snowmobile. He was thrown from the snowmobile, slid about 100 feet on the ice and suffered a broken collar bone. He was taken to a Mason City hospital.

Despite these collisions, KSTP reported on Sunday that snowmobile fatalities in Minnesota are down. Halfway through this year's season, the DNR puts the casualty count at five. In 2013, eight people died snowmobiling, in 2012 six died, in 2011, 13 died, and in 2010, 19 people died in snowmobile accidents.

Suggestions for making a safe snowmobiling experience from the Department of Natural Resources include avoiding alcohol, which can impair judgment and slow reaction time, and not speeding. The site notes that speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobile accidents. When driving at night the DNR recommends a speed not to exceed 40 miles an hour. The DNR also advises against traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness and strength of ice on lakes and ponds and urges snowmobilers to never travel alone. "Most snowmobile accidents result in some personal injury. The most dangerous situations can occur if a person is injured and alone," the site warns. "When traveling alone tell someone the destination, planned route and scheduled return time."

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