MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — New numbers out on traffic crashes in Minnesota are troubling and puzzling, even to the experts. Last year at this time there were 346 fatal accidents; this year, there have already been 372.

Most look away from crashes, but it’s the kind of scene Sgt. Kelly Phillips has to see up close. She’s a crash reconstructionist.

“We respond only to serious or fatal crashes to reconstruct them, so we see the worst of the worst all the time,” she said.

All her cases are tough, but there’s one that still wrenches her heart. On Dec. 12, 2009 a truck crossed the center lane, killing a grandmother, aunt and 8-year-old girl on their way home from church.

“I do think about that crash quite often and I still smell the smells of the cars from the airbags and the fluid in the car, and I can still see that little girl’s hand,” Phillips said. “It’s hard, it’s hard, and it’s scenes like that that don’t ever leave you.”

This past year she and her colleagues have had to answer more of those calls, despite the pandemic and much less traffic on the roads.

“This is counter to everything that we would have anticipated,” Mike Hanson, director of the Department of Public Safety, said.

Some insight from new data shows this year 110 fatalities are because of speed; that number was 70 last year.

“As traffic volumes have gone down, as congestion has gone down, there’s much more lane space for drivers to use and quite honestly to abuse out there,” Hanson said.

He says it’s a reminder for people to pay attention, slow down and buckle up so they don’t have to see what Phillips sees.

“These are horrific crashes, these are graphic crashes, it’s a violent way to have their life ended. And I with that the general public knew that these are so preventable,” Phillips said.

Motorcycle deaths are also up this year, along with those who didn’t wear seat belts. Impaired and distracted driving deaths are about the same as last year.

Here is the latest data from DPS:

  • 240 motor vehicle occupants compared with 234 reported this time last year.
  • 63 motorcyclists compared with 44 reported this time last year.
  • 41 pedestrians compared with 46 reported this time last year.
  • 10 bicyclists compared with 10 reported this time last year.
  • 110 are speed-related compared with 70 this time last year.
  • 98 are alcohol-related compared with 110 this time last year.
  • 30 are distracted-related compared with 34 this time last year.
  • 94 fatalities involved an unbelted motorist compared with 68 this time last year.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield