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Tragedy 50 years ago today lingers in memory

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt The Highway 14/15 interchange celebrates its one year anniversary. The previous intersection was notorious for fatal car accidents, the worst of which occurred 50 years ago today.

NEW ULM — December 3 marks a grim anniversary in New Ulm history. On this day 50 years ago, the community faced one of the worst vehicle accidents imaginable.

On December 3, 1970, a two-car accident resulted in the deaths of all five members of the Krueger family, including Richard and Mary Krueger, their twin 14-month-old daughters Shannon and Shawn, and Mary’s 12-year-old brother Anthony George.

The accident occurred at the Highway 14 and Highway 15 intersection commonly known as the “Y”. In 1970, at the time of the accident, the intersection was already notorious for fatal accidents, but the death of the Krueger family would be one of the worst.

The Krueger family was traveling on Highway 15 in a 1970 Volkswagen van. The family was half a mile from their home at Oak Haven Court. A 1970 Chrysler traveling west on Highway 14 ran a stop sign and struck the van. Since the motor was in the rear of the van, the front end was sheared off and all five family members were thrown from the vehicle, sustaining fatal injuries.

Don Brand was the Journal reporter who initially reported on the accident and 50 years later he still remembers.

“The Kruegers were well-liked,” he said. Richard and Mary came to New Ulm in 1967 and worked as English teachers at Cathedral High School. In the short time they lived in New Ulm, the couple had endeared themselves to many people in the community.

The accident hit home for Brand’s family. His daughters had served as babysitters for Shannon and Shawn. The Krueger family would often hire students at Cathedral to babysit. The death of two beloved teachers was hard for the school, but the additional loss of the twin girls was devastating.

Cathedral High School canceled classes the next day out of respect for the Kruegers, but the memory of the accident would linger.

The death of the Krueger family was a major turning point in how people viewed the “Y” intersection. In the days following the accident, other articles were written about the lack of safety at the location.

An article written by Steve Marquardt in the Dec. 6 Journal, described the 1.4 miles stretch from Broadway to the Highway 14 and 15 junction as “one of the deadliest in the state.” The Kruegers were not the first to be killed near this intersection. In the decade before the Kruegers’ deadly accident, 12 other people were killed in traffic accidents on this stretch of road. An additional four died in construction-related accidents when the road received a rerouting. The Kruegers’ death was viewed as the worst because an entire family was lost.

“It was certainly one of the worst accidents in terms of deaths,” Brand said. He lamented that it was always the innocent who hurt. The Krueger family had followed the traffic laws, but a driver ran a stop side and hit them.

For the next five decades, the “Y” intersection and Highway 14 as a whole would become infamous for the number of fatal accidents. The local outcry to improve safety at the “Y” and along the entire Highway 14 corridors met with little action. It would achieve national attention when Time Magazine named the intersection the most dangerous in Minnesota. Time researchers collected data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on fatal accidents between 2003 and 2012 and found a high number occurred within 15 feet of this location.

“All of the Highway 14 projects were overdue,” Brand said. He believes a simple rumble strip at that intersection might have prevented the accident.

In recent years, change has come to Highway 14 and the intersection. Efforts to expand Highway 14 to four lanes have increased safety, and in 2017, MnDOT began fixing the Highway 14/15 interchange with the New Ulm Gateway project. The new interchange was completed in August 2019. The interchange separates the two highways, reducing the risk of high-speed collisions. The hope is the long-overdue road improvements will prevent future tragedies.

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