Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Missing in Minnesota May 7, 2018

 

 

DURING A RECENT RESTROOM stop at a Redwood Falls convenience store, I paused to read notices tacked onto a bulletin board. There I saw a missing persons bulletin for Mato Dow. The 26-year-old was last seen in the early morning hours of October 13, 2017, in this southwestern Minnesota community. A quick online search showed he remains missing. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

That led me to wonder how many other Minnesotans are missing. The number shocked me. Eight-three. That’s according to information published on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website. In the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse section, the missing are snapshot profiled via photos, places and dates of disappearances, and current ages. (Click on individual names for more details.) Dow, for whatever reason, is not among those listed.

But familiar names from high profile missing persons cases are on that list. Cases I remember.

  • Corrine Erstad, missing from Inver Grove Heights in June 1992, current age 31
  • Georgia Smith, missing from Champlin in June 1999, current age 95
  • Josh Guimond, missing from Collegeville in November 2002, current age 35
  • Leanna Warner, missing from Chisholm in June 2003, current age 20
  • Brandon Swanson, missing from Marshall in May 2008, current age 29.

The body of Jacob Wetterling, Minnesota’s most high profile missing person, was found in September 2016, his killer then apprehended and imprisoned. Jacob’s case did much to raise awareness. I am thankful the Wetterling family finally got answers about their son. I only wish the results had been different.

But for 83 other missing persons, family and friends still don’t have those answers. That includes the oldest case listed, that of brothers Daniel, David and Kenneth Klein. The three left their home on November 10, 1951, for Fairview Park in Minneapolis, never to be seen again. Can you imagine? I can’t. Those “boys” would now be in their seventies.

The most recent entry (as of Friday, May 4) is for Tawhna Pringle, 31, who disappeared from the Babbitt area on January 11, 2018.

From every corner of Minnesota—from Worthington to Winona to Warren to Chisholm and places in between—people have vanished. Disappeared. Gone. The list also includes several gone missing in other states.

Eighty-three. Kids. Teens. Adults.

To not know what happened to your loved one has to be the most unimaginable pain. I’d encourage you to take the time today to click here and scroll through those 83 missing persons profiles. Even if you live outside Minnesota. All it takes is one person somewhere to share information that could help solve a case and provide answers for loved ones.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The lists you don’t want to be on in Minnesota November 22, 2011

DO YOU KNOW someone critically-injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident who was not wearing a seat belt?

I do.

So when I picked up The Faribault Daily News and read this front page headline, “County on new motorist deaths list,” I was not pleased, not at all.

My county of Rice is already on the list of Minnesota’s 13 deadliest counties for impaired driving. (Click here to see that list.) Now we’re on that latest “State’s 20 counties with highest percentage of unbelted deaths” list, according to a recent study released by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety. (Click here to read that report.)

From 2008 – 2010, Rice County had 14 motor vehicle fatalities. Nine of those individuals, or 64 percent, were not wearing seat belts.

Ranking at the top of this list you don’t want to be on are rural Kanabec and Wadena counties, each with three fatalities, all three unbelted. Nearly every county on the list of 20 lies in a rural area.

A rural southwestern Minnesota highway.

Certainly, statistics do not tell the full story of these deaths. Many factors can contribute to losing your life in a motor vehicle accident. Yet, buckling up is the one simple action you can take to increase your chances of escaping death or severe injury in a crash. Common sense tells you if you’re not strapped in place, you’re most likely going to be ejected or partially-ejected from your vehicle during a serious accident.

Why would you risk traveling without buckling up?

I’d like to pose that question not only to my fellow residents in Rice County, but also to those living in Redwood County in rural southwestern Minnesota where I grew up.

Redwood County, with a population of only 16,059, ranked third on the unbelted fatalities list with five of the six individuals killed from 2008 – 2010 not buckled in.

Perhaps Minnesotans living in less-populated areas like Redwood County possess a false sense of security regarding travel on rural roads. I know that region of Minnesota well. You can sometimes drive forever without seeing another motorist. And seldom do I see a law enforcement vehicle. But that should not stop drivers and passengers from wearing seat belts.

As much as I detest the traffic congestion and often times crazy driving in the metro area, I know that I am statistically safer on Twin Cities highways than I am on rural roadways.

A rare, uncongested drive through Minneapolis.

That brings us back to Rice County in southeastern Minnesota along Interstate 35. I don’t consider my county—with a population of 63,034, the state’s 13th most populous county and an hour from downtown Minneapolis—to be rural although we certainly have plenty of farms and back roads.

Why are people failing to buckle up here? How does that relate to driving while impaired?

When a law enforcement officer stops a driver in Rice County for failure to wear a seat belt, does the officer ask why the motorist is not buckled in? Can that question legally be asked?

Recently, two Faribault High School students were ejected from a vehicle during a crash. The unbelted driver, a 17-year-old member of the FHS football team, suffered a neck injury and was released shortly after the accident, according to an article in The Faribault Daily News. His unbelted 16-year-old passenger was critically-injured.

I hope the two teens involved, and their families, will approach local school officials to use this as a teachable moment to promote seat belt usage. As parents of most teens will tell you, an experience shared by a peer can accomplish what all the lecturing in the world by a parent cannot.

Minnesota high schoolers interested in promoting seat belt usage can compete for a $1,000 prize in the “Buckle Up Teens! TV Commercial Challenge” contest sponsored by the state’s Office of Traffic Safety. Entry deadline for the 30-second TV public service announcement is April 16, 2012. (Click here for information about this competition.)

Realistically, I realize that no matter how hard we try collectively to increase seat belt usage in Minnesota to 100 percent via contests, education, laws, enforcement of laws and more, we’ll never reach perfection. But we’re getting close at 92 percent of Minnesotans now buckling up, according to the state Traffic Safety office.

Residents of Rice and Redwood counties, and all those other 18 counties on the state’s “unbelted fatalities list,” please buckle up. Honestly, I don’t like reading stories about traffic deaths that could have been prevented.

DO YOU BUCKLE UP every time you get into a motor vehicle? Why or why not? Share your personal reasons, your story.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling