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Investigation points to 'distracted driving' in tragic Hudson crash

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A State Patrol investigation indicates the driver of a Dodge Durango and a rear-seat passenger were preoccupied, trying to find an item in the center console moments before their vehicle struck the rear of a stopped semitrailer at highway speed.

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With the investigation winding down, Sgt. Brian Erickson said in a press release Wednesday morning that the Patrol "has determined, from physical evidence and witness and survivor accounts that distracted driving was a significant contributing factor in the cause of the crash."

"According to witnesses, the teens, who were returning to New Richmond from Woodbury, were trying to get the attention of another driver who had passed them. In an attempt to find paper, the rear seat passenger Jordan Johnson unfastened his seatbelt while at the same time the driver searched in the center console. These distracted actions resulted in the Durango striking the rear of the stopped semitrailer at highway speed."

"The crash was a tragic chain of events that resulted in the untimely deaths of three young teenagers. Driving a motor vehicle is a responsibility. When a driver gets behind the wheel they must be engaged in the safe operation of that vehicle 100 percent of the time," added Jeffrey Frenette, commander at State Patrol's District 6.

"Reaching for something, using a cellphone, turning the dial of a radio, eating, talking or anything that robs your attention can cause a crash that can forever change your life or those around you."

Frenette and Erickson remind all motorists to:

--Keep a safe following distance in heavy or light traffic to allow you the ability to stop in time and avoid a crash.

-- Wear seatbelts at all times.

-- Be aware of changing conditions in and around construction zone and to watch your speed in a construction zone. The speed limit is reduced for the safety of motorists and people working at the site.

The fatal crash occurred Monday, July 30th near Milepost 6 eastbound when the vehicle driven by Zachary D. Zajec, 17, rear-ended a semi tractor trailer unit that was stopped in heavy traffic. Zajec died Monday, Aug. 6 at Regions Hospital from injuries he received in the crash. His passengers, Joshua J. Goodrich, 17, Jordan Johnson, 16, also of New Richmond died in or shortly after the crash. The fourth passenger, Thomas Wanless, 17, received minor injuries. All four were New Richmond residents.

Other than Johnson, all the other occupants were wearing safety belts. The operator of the semi was not injured.

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