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Woman injured but alive after crash sends guardrail into car

A 1999 Buick Century has significant damage after a one-vehicle crash Aug. 23 along Interstate 35 near Cloquet. Though a section of guardrail was forced into the front seat, the driver escaped with non-life-threatening injuries. (Photo courtesy of the Cloquet Area Fire District)

A Duluth woman was fortunate to escape with her life after a 15-foot length of guardrail penetrated the front of her car in a one-vehicle crash on Interstate 35 last weekend, authorities said.

“It’s one of those accidents where you don’t really expect to find anyone alive,” said Kevin Schroeder, chief of the Cloquet Area Fire District.

Members of the CAFD, along with the Minnesota State Patrol, the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, the Cloquet Police Department and the Fond du Lac Police Department responded to the report of the accident at about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 23.

Upon arrival, they found a car had collided with the metal guardrail and the female occupant was pinned in the vehicle. Crews worked to remove the approximately 15-foot-long section of guardrail that had been pushed several feet inside the driver’s side door, pinning the driver inside. Schroeder said it took crews about 25 minutes to extricate the woman, who then was transported to St. Luke’s hospital with injuries to her pelvis and lower extremities.

“Though she was severely injured, thankfully she was still alive,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said that when the section of guardrail struck the driver’s side door, it appeared the door may have shoved the driver over into the passenger’s seat. The guardrail ended up wrapped around the steering wheel.

According to an accident report filed by the Minnesota State Patrol, the 1999 Buick Century driven by Michelle M. Mehle, 31, of Duluth was headed north on I-35 and approaching the Minnesota Highway 33 overpass when it drifted onto the left shoulder of the roadway. The State Patrol reported that Mehle apparently overcorrected and her vehicle traveled across both lanes, striking the guardrail on the right shoulder.

The State Patrol report indicated that the roadway was dry at the time of the accident and Mehle was wearing her seat belt. The Patrol said officers detected possible signs of alcohol in Mehle’s system, though it was not immediately clear if that was a factor in the crash; a final report has not yet been received from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension laboratory.