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Distracted State Trooper Crashes Into Elrosa Couple

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SAUK CENTRE, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota woman is recovering after a distracted Minnesota State Trooper crashed into her car last Friday.

Sitting in her Sauk Centre hospital room with a fractured wrist, four broken ribs and more bruises than you’d care to see, Bernice Uhlenkamp and her husband, Ernie, hate to think what could have been.

“I think if it wouldn’t have been for the seat belts and air bags, I think we would have gone through the windshield,” Bernice said.

On Nov. 11, the retired Elrosa couple was driving home along State Highway 71 two miles south of Sauk Centre. Suddenly and violently, their 2001 Chevy Blazer SUV was spun around as glass shattered and tires screeched.

“We got hit! It happened so fast, I didn’t remember that much about it,” said Ernie Uhlenkamp.

The other vehicle’s driver, who ran over two sets of rumple strips and blew through a clearly marked stop sign at the intersection of Stearns County road 29, was 12-year veteran Minnesota State Trooper, Gregg Gerhartz.

Gerhartz told investigators that he had just made a traffic stop and was entering data on his car’s laptop while driving up to the intersection.

State Patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske said “that’s something we address in training and in the academy and revisit constantly, about driving safely and dealing with all the things we need to do while we perform our duties.”

Gerhartz has apologized to the couple and admits his mistake. The couple says that time will heal all injuries, but add the dangers of distracted driving nearly cost them their lives.

“Yes, we’re all fortunate, I guess,” said Ernie.

The State Patrol said the trooper’s mistake should be a warning to all drivers: it can happen to anyone in just a split second.

Meantime, an internal investigation into the crash could result in disciplinary actions. The crash is also being reviewed by the Stearns County Attorney’s Office for possible charges related to inattentive driving and running a stop sign.

It should be pointed out that in the summer of 2007 Gerhartz was struck by an inattentive truck driver along Interstate 94.

In that crash, Gerhartz suffered a broken leg and told his local paper, “distracted driving is a huge problem.”

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