Driver in 54th & Penn crash had blood-alcohol level of 0.03 percent

The driver who fatally struck a pedestrian near 54th & Penn earlier this month had a blood-alcohol level of 0.03 percent, according to a Minneapolis police report.

The driver, a 20-year-old Delano man, was uninjured, according to the report. The Southwest Journal is not naming him, because he has not been charged with a crime.

Minnesota’s legal limit for intoxication is 0.08 percent, but the state has a zero-tolerance law for underage drinking and driving.

It is unknown whether or not he was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, according to the report. The report gave no indication whether or not the driver was on his cell phone.

The man struck 47-year-old Debra Skolos, of Golden Valley, at 8:24 p.m. on Feb. 1 as she was walking west across Penn. Skolos died at Hennepin County Medical Center just over an hour after the crash.

Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano held a pedestrian-safety forum Feb. 20 in the Armatage neighborhood, nearly three weeks after the crash. Speaking at the forum were City Attorney Susan Segal, MPD Fifth Precinct Inspector Kathy Waite, Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson and Officer Eric Shogren, who has been assigned to investigate the case, among others. About 20 community members were in attendance.

Neither Waite nor Shogren commented on specifics about the crash at the forum, other than Shogren saying it does not appear Skolos was getting into her car at the time of the incident. But each described the investigation process, with Waite saying it’s one that doesn’t necessarily have a set timeframe.

Waite said the process is dependent in part on lab results and data obtained in search warrants. That data will need to be compared to what witnesses said and what investigators found at the scene of the crash, she said.

Shogren said the process involves obtaining search warrants,  interviewing witnesses and following up with witnesses to make sure statements match. Officers can also look at a car’s crash-data recorder to see what the vehicle was doing at the time of the accident, he said.

Investigators will forward the case onto the county attorney for review if it could reach the threshold of criminal vehicular operation, Shogren said. The county attorney can either press charges or decline to press charges, in which case the case is sent to the city attorney for review.

Shogren said he will always send a case to the city attorney for review so that the office is aware of what happened.

Vision Zero

City officials at the forum also talked about their goal of eliminating fatalities and serious injuries from crashes on city streets by 2027.

Hutcheson told forum attendees that her offices is working on a scope of work that will help prepare its “Vision Zero” action plan. About 30 to 40 cities in the U.S. have adopted Vision Zero, she said, and right now, Minneapolis leaders are defining what it should look like here.

Hutcheson said Vision Zero has to include multiple city departments working together with people who travel in Minneapolis. Strategies for reducing road injuries and deaths could include measures such as education and advocating for lower speed limits, she said.

Palmisano noted a longstanding request of the state Legislature to allow cities to be able to lower speed limits in places they feel necessary. She said that’s something the city doesn’t have the power to do today.

Residents directed specific traffic concerns to Hutcheson and other city staff at the forum, voicing concerns with items such as speeding and snow removal. One man said drivers go well above the speed limit on Lake Street north of Bde Maka Ska. A woman at the forum said the city should talk to bicyclists and pedestrians about not wearing all black. She added that pedestrians are sometimes forced to cross in the middle of streets because of a lack of snow removal.

“It seems to me that you can do all of this top-heavy stuff where you say, ‘We’re going to have this policy, etcetera,’ but the quickest way to make people be safe is to be able to ensure you can walk on a sidewalk,” the woman said.

She also suggested that the city should increase enforcement of traffic laws, adding that she thinks people would take notice if they receive a ticket.

Hutcheson stressed that she and her staff were not at the forum to lay out their plan but rather to introduce the idea of Vision Zero. She said she agreed that she’s not satisfied with the level of sidewalk clearing in Minneapolis and said it’s something her staff is working on.

Waite said police too struggle with sidewalks and encouraged neighbors to talk to one another to stress the importance of cleared sidewalks.

“Me having words with them, Regulatory Services having words with them won’t have same impact necessarily as all of you,” she said.

The same holds true for driving, she said, noting that she could write tickets all day long but could come back the next week and people would still be speeding. She added that people who speed tend to be people who live in the area.

Hutcheson said the city has shortened the process of issuing a citation for not removing snow but said it’s still not exactly where they want it to be. She encouraged people to call 311 with complaints, adding that a citation goes out to offenders without the city doing an inspection first.