LAKEVILLE, Minn. -- The Minnesota State Patrol has identified the two victims who died in a fatal chain-reaction crash Monday morning in Lakeville involving a bee truck.
The vehicles collided on northbound Interstate 35 just south of County Road 70 late Monday morning.
Fifty-year-old Pamela Brinkhaus of Elko died at the scene.
Her family released a statement today about their loss.
"Yesterday our family lost one of the most remarkable, beautiful, kindhearted and loving women anyone could have ever known. "
Twenty-four-year-old Kari Rasmussen of St. Anthony was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition, but died Monday evening.
Friends say Kari and her husband, John were expecting their first child. When the accident happened, Kari was said to be driving home from her very first ultrasound.
Kari was a graduate of Bethel University and on Tuesday, a professor who taught her for nearly all of her time there said she was a gem.
"She was just pleasant and affable. She was the type of person who would always work harder and, her smile was infectious," Dr. Gary Long said.
According to the State Patrol, two semi trucks and two cars were in the right lane of I-35 northbound near CR 70. The bee truck was ahead of the two passenger vehicles followed by the second semi truck. Traffic was stopped on I-35 but the second semi truck did not react quickly enough to stop and hit the two passenger vehicles. The vehicles then slammed into the bee truck in front of them, according to the State Patrol.
The official report from the patrol said the driver of the semi truck, not the bee truck, was traveling too fast to react and he was the instigator of the chain reaction crash. That driver does have a handful of traffic violations on his record and a DWI arrest in 2002. He was not injured in Monday's crash.
With traffic stopped on I-35, emergency responders knew this crash would be bad and then there was something they didn't expect.
"It was a black haze. Never seen anything like that," said Lakeville Fire Chief Scott Nelson. "I opened my door and got stung in the face."
With thousands of bees swarming, pouring out of the back of a semi carrying thousands more, emergency crews tried to reach the crash victims. The swarm complicated an already difficult situation.
"The driver's transporting the bees had some extra suits that the paramedics were able to put on," Lt. Roeske explained.
The bees stung several first responders. An ambulance was standing by in case anyone had an allergic reaction.
Officers were initially told to not get out of their cars until the bees settled down. Firefighters tried to keep the bees calm with water hoses; beekeepers warned them they are a handful, especially when it's extremely hot.
A nearby Lakeville elementary school took precautions as well, not allowing Anthony Cherrier's son outside because he's allergic to bees.
"That stuff is scary...not too far from home either," Anthony said.
The bees belong to Bauer Honey based in Fertile, Minnesota. Darren Straus, part owner of the company, was hauling the load from Mississippi to North Dakota. "All I felt was a couple of big bangs and I looked in the one mirror and I saw boxes and beehives exploding," he said.
Straus said he was hauling 800 bee colonies, each with about 30,000 honey-producers. He's estimating 150 colonies were destroyed or lost in the accident, costing the company about $45,000. Straus said he was more concerned about the victims in the cars.
Investigators are looking into whether a slowdown because of construction down the road played a role in the crash, but at this point they just don't know for sure.
"How all the vehicles interacted is still to be determined," said Lt. Eric Roeske with the Minnesota State Patrol.
At least one firefighter had to be treated for heat exhaustion. Northbound I-35 was reopened around 7 p.m. Monday.
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