11 killed in deadly weekend on Minnesota roads

Crashed Pontiac
This photo, released by the Minnesota State Patrol, shows a Pontiac Grand Am that was involved in a fatal crash that killed six people in Cambridge, Minn.
Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota State Patrol

Six people, including four teenagers, were killed early Sunday in a head-on collision. It was one of four separate crashes over the weekend that left a total of 11 people dead, seven of them teenagers.

Highway Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said there was a smell of alcohol from the Pontiac Grand Am that collided with a sport utility vehicle around 2:40 a.m. on Highway 95 west of Cambridge, about 40 miles north of Minneapolis. The roadway was wet at the time, investigators said.

The 16-year-old driver, who got her license less than three weeks ago and was driving in violation of the state's Graduated Driver's License law, was hospitalized in serious condition, Roeske said.

The Graduated Driver's License law prohibits new drivers from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., and limits drivers to one passenger under the age of 20 unless accompanied by an adult.

Her name hasn't been released because of her age and the possibility of criminal charges, according to the patrol.

Her four passengers -- Kelsee Blackledge, 15; Stephen Kendryna, 16; Travis Buchan, 17; Travis Gryczkowski, 21 -- were killed. None appeared to be wearing their seat belts, though the driver told investigators she was belted in, Roeske said.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Two people in the SUV also died. Their names haven't been released.

"I'm pretty angry. My son said he loved me last night," Kendryna's mother, Deborah Kendryna of Cambridge, said through tears. "I just don't understand."

News of the accident spread quickly through the town, and several people visited the crash site Sunday. A bouquet of flowers was left at the scene.

"I still don't know if I can grasp it," said Jerry Johnson, who said he knew the Kendryna family. "It's going to shock Cambridge. It's going to shock those kids in school."

Superintendent Bruce Novak said grief counselors will be on hand Monday at Cambridge-Isanti High School, where at least one of the victims attended school.

"Students are certainly going to need help," Novak said.

Jimmy Gordon said the 16-year-old driver worked for him at his pizza restaurant and he was worried about her.

"I feel bad for her because that's something that can really mess you up," Gordon said while visiting the crash site.

Lt. Roeske said Sunday's crash had many of the same characteristics of most accidents involving teens.

We still see the same mistakes ... not wearing seatbelts, not paying attention ... driving too fast, and alcohol involvement."

"We still see the same common mistakes, or the same choices being made, and those are -- not wearing seatbelts, not paying attention, in some cases driving too fast, and also alcohol involvement."

Investigators are reconstructing the crash scene to determine a possible cause. They say it's not clear which car crossed the center line.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among young people ages 15-20.

Anoka High school senior Natalie Hayford is an activist with the Minnesota chapter of SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Hayford says many young drivers she knows use their cell phones or text while driving.

"They don't realize how distracted they are," she said. "They think that they are only taking their eyes off for a second, because they don't need to look at their phone while they are text messaging."

Hayford created a website called teendriver411.com to help educate students about Minnesota's driving laws, which she says many teens knowingly ignore.

"Even if they do learn them, I think a lot of teens aren't obeying them because they don't know how they'll get caught. They don't think they'll get pulled over, because how would this cop know how long they've had their license."

The investigation is continuing. The State Patrol says it could take weeks before more information is released.

A deadly weekend

The deadly weekend began on Friday, when a pickup truck driven by a 16-year old rolled into a ditch in Winona County, killing three teenage girls.

The victims of the Friday crash were identified as Shauna Marie Ruhoff, 16, the driver; Katie Lee Hornberg, 14; and Morgan Zeller, 13. None was wearing seatbelts, investigators said.

On Saturday, another teenager was killed in Onamia when she pulled onto Highway 169 and was broadsided by another car.

And on Sunday, police say the sole occupant of a vehicle that crashed shortly before 9 p.m. was also killed, but won't release the driver's name until later today.

The State Patrol said the Honda Fit was speeding northbound on Interstate 35W when it hit a bridge pillar under Interstate 494 in Bloomington.