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UPDATE: Boys Were Trying to Get Girl's Attention During Fatal Crash

The surviving passenger in the July 30 crash that killed three New Richmond teens told investigators why the driver was distracted and a passenger unbuckled his seat belt.

UPDATE (3:29 a.m., Aug. 9, 2012): The St. Paul Pioneer Press is reporting that the New Richmond teens in the SUV that crashed on July 30 were trying to communicate with a girl in another vehicle.

Thomas Wanless, 17, the passenger who survived the crash, told investigators the boys were trying to give a phone number to a girl in the other vehicle, said State Patrol Sgt. Brian Erickson.

READ THE PIONEER PRESS ARTICLE

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UPDATE (8:15 a.m., Aug. 8, 2012): Wisconsin State Patrol has completed its investigation into the July 30 crash that has claimed the lives of three teens, and it concludes that distracted driving was a contributing factor.

The teens were searching the inside of the SUV for paper in an attempt to get the attention of a driver who had passed them. Driver Zachary D. Zajec was searching the center console during the time of the crash and back-seat passenger Jordan Johnson had unfastened his seat belt. 

State Patrol issued the following statements in a news release on Wednesday morning: 

On Monday, July 30, 2012, a vehicle driven by 17 year old Zachary D. Zajec, from New Richmond, Wis. rear-ended a semi tractor trailer unit that was stopped in heavy traffic on eastbound I94 near Hudson. Zajec died on Aug. 6 from injuries he received in the crash. His passengers, also from New Richmond, 17 year old Joshua J. Goodrich and 16 year old Jordan Johnson, were killed at the scene. The fourth passenger, 17 year old Thomas Wanless received minor injuries. Other than Johnson, all the other occupants were wearing safety belts. The operator of the semi was not injured.

The Wisconsin State Patrol has completed most aspects of the crash investigation and 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, Minnesota, 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.

According the State Patrol Commander Jeffrey Frenette, 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% of the time. Frenette added that distracted driving such as reaching for something, using a cellphone, turning the dial of a radio, eating, talking or anything that robs your attention can be a cause a crash that can forever change your life or those around you.

To prevent additional crashes such as this one, the State Patrol reminds 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

Watch your speed in a construction zone. The speed limit is reduced for the safety of motorists and the people working at the site.

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UPDATE (7:15 p.m., Aug. 6, 2012): Wisconsin State Patrol has reported that Zachary D. Zajec, 17, of New Richmond, the driver of the SUV, died on Monday, Aug. 6, as a result of the injuries sustained in the July 30 crash.

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UPDATE (8:05 a.m., July 30, 2012): Wisconsin State Patrol has released the names of the four New Richmond teens who were in the SUV.

Passenger Jordan M. Johnson, 16, the only one of the four who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed at the scene.

Passenger Joshua J. Goodrich, 17, was transported via LifeLink helicopter to Regions Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Driver Zachary D. Zajec, 17, received life-threatening injuries and also was taken to Regions Hospital via LifeLink helicopter.

Passenger Thomas J. Wanless, 17, was treated at the scene for non-life threatening injuries.

According to a State Patrol news release:

A 2000 Dodge Durango driving in the left lane rear ended a semi that was stopped in heavy traffic. The passenger vehicle was occupied by 4 occupants. The driver, identified as Zachary D. Zajec, age 17 of New Richmond, WI received critical head, chest and extremity injuries. The front seat passenger was identified as Joshua J. Goodrich age 17 of New Richmond, WI. Goodrich was critically injured in the crash and later died from his injuries at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN. A rear seat passenger identified as Jordan M. Johnson age 16 from New Richmond, WI was also fatally injured. Another rear seat passenger identified as Thomas John Wanless, age 17 of New Richmond, WI received unspecified non-life threatening injuries. Johnson was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. All other occupants were seat belted. 

Vehicle information: Utility Truck (2000 Dodge Durango):

Driver: Zajec, Zachary Douglas
17 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Life Threatening
Transported To: Regions Hospital, St. Paul, MN
Seatbelt Use: Yes
Enforcement Action: Pending Investigation

Passenger: Goodrich, Joshua Jacob
17 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Fatal 
Transported To: Regions Hospital, St. Paul, MN
Seatbelt Use: Yes

Passenger: Johnson, Jordan Michael
16 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Fatal
Seatbelt Use: No 

Passenger: Wanless, Thomas John
17 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Non-Life Threatening
Seatbelt Use: Yes

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UPDATE (6:30 p.m., July 30, 2012): Wisconsin State Patrol has issued a news release with the following information about today's crash:

At 1:20 PM on Monday July 30, 2012 a crash occurred on I-94 EB at Milepost 6 in ST. CROIX County near ROBERTS. 

Assisting agencies included St. Croix County Sheriff’s Dept., Hudson Fire Dept., Hudson EMS and Rescue, Roberts Fire Dept., Jerry’s Towing, and Life-Link Helicopter. 

The crash involved 2 fatalities and 2 injuries. Vehicle and occupant information, if available, is on attached page(s). 

The details of the crash are as follows: 

On Monday, July 30, 2012, at approximately 1320 hours, a car versus semi crash occurred on I-94 eastbound, milepost 6, Hudson Township, St. Croix County. 

A passenger vehicle in the left lane rear ended a semi that was stopped in heavy traffic. The passenger vehicle was occupied by 4 occupants. The driver and front seat passenger received critical, multisystem traumatic injuries. The front seat passenger succumbed to his injuries at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN.  A rear seat passenger received minor injuries. Another rear seat passenger received fatal injuries. The fatally injured passenger was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. All other occupants were seatbelted. 

Further identification of the passenger vehicle occupants is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. 

The semi was operated by Keep N On Trucking of Cadott, WI and driven by Paul A. Davis age 34, of Cadott, WI.  Davis was uninjured

The crash remains under investigation at this time.

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Unit 1: Truck Tractor(Semi Attached) (2005 Peterbuilt)
Driver:  Davis, Paul A
34 Year Old Male From Cadott, WI
Injuries: None
Enforcement Action: Pending Investigation

Unit 2: Utility Truck (2000 Dodge Durango)
Driver:  Name is withheld pending notification of family.
17 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Life Threatening
Transported To: Regions Hospital, St. Paul, MN
Seatbelt Use: Yes
Enforcement Action: Pending Investigation

Passenger:  Name is withheld pending notification of family.
17 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Fatal
Transported To: Regions Hospital, St. Paul, MN

Passenger:  Name is withheld pending notification of family.
16 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Fatal
Seatbelt Use: No

Passenger:  Name is withheld pending notification of family.
17 Year Old Male From New Richmond, WI
Injuries: Non-Life Threatening
Seatbelt Use: Yes

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UPDATE (3:36 p.m., July 30, 2012): The scene has been cleared and the eastbound lanes of I-94 have been reopened. Backups for miles in both directions are being reported.

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UPDATE (2:20 p.m., July 30, 2012): The Police Clips page on Facebook is reporting that two people have died in the crash.

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ORIGINAL POST (1:46 p.m., July 30, 2012): Wisconsin State Patrol is reporting that the left eastbound lane of I-94 is closed because of crash involving semi and a car at mile post 5.

Emergency crews, including two LifeLink helicopters and a medical examiner have been called to the scene where multiple people are injured.

According to Wisconsin State Patrol, traffic is being routed south at Exit 3 to River Falls and east on Highway 29 to Highway 63, then north back to I-94. The Exit 4 eastbount on-ramp is being shut down.

For up-to-the-minute traffic information, check out the Hudson Patch Traffic Map.

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This post will be updated when more information is available.

T. Russell July 31, 2012 at 05:49 PM
What a tragedy - thoughts and prayers go out to the families.
Tammy McKibben July 31, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Wow!! My thoughts and prayers go out to all families and the two young men who are still recovering! I was just through that area about a week ago and it just came to a stop without any warning. We too had to respond quickly!! My husband all experienced the same thing a few days after that. Many warnings need to be posted prior to that spot letting drivers know to expect sudden stops as obviously this is happening on a daily basis with the construction on the Somerset/Roberts Exit. How tragic for everyone involved.
Kim Utecht Prayfrock August 08, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I hate that stretch of road. I avoid it at all costs. My heart aches for the families and friends.
Susan August 08, 2012 at 02:18 PM
My heart also breaks for these families. I hope these tragic stories are taken seriously by our young drivers. Please don't believe that "it can't happen to me", I am sure these young men felt the same way. I hope everyone will be more attentive while driving. If you are behind the wheel of a 4.000 pound vehicle, propelling down the highway at 55 mph, driving should be the only thing you are paying attention to, so we can avoid these terrible tragedies. It can happen to you, 25% of all accidents are caused by inattentive driving (yes, this includes talking on your phone).
Micheal Foley September 26, 2012 at 02:17 PM
The charity Our Four Boys has been set up to with the donations being used toward medical and memorial expenses for the boys: http://ourfourboys.org. If you print off a ticket from http://patch.com/N-fjDt, 10% of your Buffalo Wild Wings bill today will go to the charity.

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