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Crash involving semitrailer injures 2: Portion of Highway 371 closed while emergency personnel investigate

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Debris was scattered throughout the southbound lanes of Highway 371 south of Brainerd following a crash Wednesday, July 11, involving a semitrailer and a passenger car. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 4
Emergency personnel on scene Wednesday, July 11, of a crash involving a passenger car and semitrailer along Highway 371 south of Brainerd. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 4
Emergency personnel attend to the injured parties Wednesday, July 11, who were involved in a crash along Highway 371 south of Brainerd. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 4

Debris was scattered throughout the southbound lanes of Highway 371 south of Brainerd following a crash Wednesday, July 11, involving a semitrailer and a passenger car.

The crash, reported at 11:29 a.m., resulted in life-threatening injuries to a 69-year-old Backus woman and her 41-year-old Bemidji passenger, who were both in a 2003 Toyota Corolla.

The Minnesota State Patrol reported the Toyota was traveling west on Koering Road, near the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center approaching the southbound lane of Highway 371. The Toyota entered the southbound lane and was struck by a 2002 Western Star CNV, a semitrailer.

Several agencies assisted the state patrol on scene, including the Little Falls and Brainerd fire departments, North Memorial Ambulance, North Memorial Air Care, Gold Cross Ambulance and the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office controlled traffic, as a portion of the highway was closed for a few hours while authorities investigated and cleaned up the debris on the highway. Collins Brothers Towing of Brainerd towed the vehicles.

The driver of the Toyota, Colleen M. Epeneter, was airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale with life-threatening injuries, the state patrol reported. Her passenger, Brenda M. Epeneter, was taken by ambulance to St. Gabriel's Hospital in Little Falls.

The driver of the semitrailer, Gabriel J. Rybaski, 41, Pierz, suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was transported by ambulance to the Little Falls hospital.

Dana Pikula was driving truck for Knife River when he came upon the serious crash. He was heading south to drop off his load in Fort Ripley, as Knife River is working on the Highway 371 construction project.

"When I came upon the crash, it looked like the car was in the ditch and there was debris all over the road," Pikula said.

Pikula immediately stopped and called 911. He began flagging down traffic to have the vehicles stop. Stopped motorists were rerouted, north of the Welcome Center near State Park Road.

"I couldn't believe there were cars that kept on going," Pikula said. "There was about five or six cars that drove on the shoulders past the crash without stopping."

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