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New Richmond Mourns I-94 Crash Victim Zach Zajec

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(credit: CBS) Reg Chapman
Reg Chapman joined WCCO-TV in May of 2009. He came to WCCO fr...
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NEW RICHMOND, Wis. (WCCO) – A third teen has died from injuries he suffered during a rear-end collision on I-94 in Wisconsin last week.

Zach Zajec died on Monday.

He was driving the SUV that hit the back of a semi-truck that had slowed in a construction zone. Jordan Johnson, 16, and 17-year-old Joshua Jacob also lost their lives in the crash.

That stretch of interstate has seen its share of accidents — 13 since April 1 — and 11 of those have resulted in serious injuries or death.

Zajec played soccer at New Richmond High School.

On Tuesday, his teammates and friends remember him as a hard working jokester, who enjoyed making people laugh.

The caring wall outside New Richmond High School is expanding, now that three of the four students involved in a rear-end collision on I-94 are gone.

“I wish he could have made it,” said friend Andrew Blietz.

It’s especially hard for Blietz and other members of the high school soccer team. Blietz says thinking about the good times keeps them going.

“He always had a smile on his face, and he always made other people smile,” Blietz said. “He never had a bad mood at all.”

Coach Pete Melloy says keeping the team busy has helped, and it’s only in the down time that he catches a glimpse of how Zajec’s passing has affected everyone.

“He leaves a great legacy behind and we’re going to keep him in our memories forever,” Melloy said, as the team has dedicated the 2012 season to Zajec.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation 80,000 to 100,000 people a day pass through an 8-mile stretch of I-94 that is under construction.

It has been a hot spot for accidents.

“From April until August 1, based on our records and the records of the state patrol, we’ve had 13 crashes in and around that construction zone,” said Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokesperson Chris Ouellette.

Ouellette says all the accidents happened when traffic was restricted to one lane in each direction.

Now, traffic moves in two lanes each way, and there are more signs warning drivers of the work zone.

It’s their hope extra signage and increase police presence will keep people alert and alive.

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