Steele County Sheriff Lon Thiele and his wife, Brooke, know how lucky they are after
seeing the aftermath of their vehicle following a crash last week in Dodge County.
“We know how fortunate we were that our children weren’t in the back seat,” Sheriff
Thiele said referring to the crunched up rear end of his Ford Edge. Had their
children been in the car, Thiele acknowledges, the outcome could have been much
different. “If my girls would have been in the back seat, they wouldn’t be with us
today,” he said.
Brooke Nicole Thiele, 42, of Owatonna, was on her way home from St. Mary’s
Hospital in Rochester where she works as a nurse when a vehicle collided with her
around 3:26 p.m. on Hwy. 14 east of Claremont in the two-lane stretch that has been
the scene of numerous fatalities in recent years. A short time after getting off work,
Thiele was sent back to St. Mary’s, but this time as a patient. She suffered extensive
injuries in the crash.
Thiele was stopped in the roadway yielding to a vehicle in front of her attempting to
make a left hand turn. A Chevrolet Silverado going in the same direction as Thiele
rear-ended her vehicle.
“Unfortunately, Hwy. 14 is a road full of statistics,” Thiele said. “My wife almost
became another one.”
Abby Kristine Namken, 32, of Fairmont, was operating the Chevy. Both drivers were
transported to St. Mary’s Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The State
Patrol said both drivers were wearing their seat belts and no alcohol was involved.
Sgt. Troy Christianson of the State Patrol said Namken has been issued a citation for
careless driving. The misdemeanor charge requires a mandatory court appearance.
Christianson said “multiple factors” typically lead to a careless driving charge,
though he did not want to elaborate on the specifics. “It’s a significant charge for a
crash,” he said.
But Sheriff Thiele is talking about the crash and confirms the other driver “wasn’t
paying attention due to reading a text.”
The crash involved nearly the same scenario as when a Blooming Prairie teacher
and her daughter were killed a year and half ago. Like Thiele, Rachel Harberts was
stopped in the roadway when she was rammed from behind by a driver who was on
his cell phone at the time. The two crashes happened about a mile apart from each
Thiele is utilizing his wife’s unfortunate incident to draw attention to what he sees
as a growing epidemic on Minnesota’s roadways: distracted driving.
“I want to remind people of the hands-free law,” Thiele says. “When it hits close to
home like this, you push even harder.”
Thiele said his wife is “in a lot of pain” and recovering at home. It’s unknown how
long she will be out of work as she recovers. “It’s tough to see her in the pain she is,”
he said. “She is in a lot of pain caused by some person that couldn’t wait to read a
text,” he added.
As his wife heals, Thiele said he will begin pushing more about the dangers involved
with distracted driving. Even though Minnesota enacted a hands-free law last
summer, Thiele said it’s still a serious problem with motorists.
“While on the road, put the phone down,” Thiele said. “Hands-free saves lives.”