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Husband and wife identified as victims in Pine City crash

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A husband and wife from Pine City were killed Friday when their car was struck head-on by a truck attempting to pass in a no-passing zone. Alcohol may have been a factor in what was the first deadly crash of the new year on Minnesota roads.

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The Minnesota State Patrol reported that 50-year-old Michael Moris and his 48-year-old wife, Robin, died in the collision on Minnesota Highway 70 near Glendale Road, a few miles east of Interstate 35 in Pine County.

The State Patrol said the couple was traveling westbound in an Oldsmobile Intrigue driven by Michael Moris at about 5:45 p.m. when they were struck head-on by a Chevrolet pickup driven by Scott Heckel, 44, of Pine City.

Heckel was eastbound on Highway 70 when he attempted to pass a Dodge Caravan in a no-passing zone at the crest of a hill. After the initial collision, Heckel's truck sideswiped the Caravan, which ended up in the ditch.

Heckel was transported to Regions Hospital in St. Paul with non-life-threatening injuries. The State Patrol said Heckel was drinking before the crash, that alcohol was detected in his system and that charges are pending.

The driver of the Caravan, 59-year-old Patricia Denn of Frederic, Wis., suffered minor injuries. Her son, 25-year-old Matthew Denn of Duluth, was a passenger and was not injured.

The State Patrol made 25 drunken-driving arrests overnight from New Year's Eve to 6 a.m. New Year's Day, down from 28 arrests in the same period last year, said Capt. Matt Langer. The State Patrol was just one of the agencies that stepped up drunken-driving enforcement for the holiday.

"It was a pretty uneventful night overall for us," Langer said before Friday night's fatal crash. "We certainly believe that our extra enforcement and education and our efforts to be visible, along with the public just being responsible, contributes to that."

Typically, the New Year's holiday is second only to St. Patrick's Day in drawing drunken drivers onto the roads, Langer said.

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