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TRANSPORTATION: Working ‘Toward’ a common goal: Statewide group holds traffic safety workshop in Bemidji

Koren Hill shared her personal story and the consequences of driving under the influence Wednesday during the Northwest Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths workshop at the Sanford Center. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- In a four-year span, 29 people lost their lives and 54 more suffered serious injuries in car accidents on Beltrami County roads, the highest total in northwest Minnesota for 2011-2015.

Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths has been working to lower this number since 2003.

On Wednesday, Northwest Minnesota TZD held a daylong workshop at the Sanford Center with more than 100 different traffic safety officials on hand. TZD’s main platform is safety awareness, and they are using the 4 E’s: Education, Enforcement, Engineering and Emergency medical and trauma services.

The leading cause of accidents in the northwest region is alcohol, officials said, followed by distraction, speed and lack of seatbelt use.

And since the leading cause of crashes in northwest Minnesota is alcohol, Wednesday’s event also included a personal story from Koren Hill, editor of the Warroad Pioneer.

“I was not the victim of a DUI crash and neither were any members of my family. I was the offender,” Hill said.

Hill said she had consumed six beers within eight hours and decided to drive home from the local bar.

“I knew I probably shouldn’t be driving but I reasoned with myself, saying I only live six blocks away. Then the lights came on,” Hill said. “I blew a .26, that’s more than three  times the legal limit. My urinary test came back at .23. I had six beers and I was a .23. I was floored.”

Hill talked about the ways a DUI impacted her life. She touched on how much it cost her and how embarrassing it was at times.

“I couldn’t teach my daughter how to drive because I didn’t have my license,” Hill said. “After everything was said and done, I had to pay $4,048. My auto insurance had more than doubled in price. I have a payment plan on my fine and I will be paying that off until November of 2017.”

Hill hopes her story makes a difference.

“People need to be educated. I want to make a difference and I want to help, and this is one way for me to do that,” she said.

Hill also thanked the law enforcement officers in the room many times.

“If it weren't for you guys, countless lives could have been lost. I am eternally grateful for your service and you did save this life.”

State Patrol Capt. Mike Wedin of District 3200 said he appreciated Hill having the nerve to speak to a room of strangers and tell her story.

“I give her credit for sharing her side of the story and trying to educate others not to make the same mistake,” Wedin said.

Wedin said he was pleased Hill appreciated the work of law enforcement.

“It’s good for us to hear that we are making a difference,” Wedin said. “Sometimes with traffic violations it doesn’t always feel that way. It is nice to hear that we are saving lives.”

Rachel Newville

Rachel Newville is a summer reporting intern with the Pioneer. She is a sophomore at the University of South Dakota.