Cass County Sheriff offers safety tips in wake of deadly snowmobile accidents
Cass County Minnesota has first snowmobile fatality since 2019
CASS COUNTY — In the wake of four recent snowmobile accidents that resulted in two deaths and three people suffering injuries in Cass County, Sheriff Bryan Welk offered thoughts on safety.
Welk said there seems to be a small increase in snowmobile crashes this winter, especially when considering the recent fatalities.
"I think it's trending up a little bit, but the big thing this year is that we have had two fatal snowmobile accidents," Welk said. "We haven't had a fatal snowmobile accident since 2019."
Welk said there are many steps that may be taken to reduce the risk of a dangerous snowmobile incident. As with almost any motorized vehicle, speed is a major contributor to crashes, and proper safety equipment is often the key in being able to survive such an incident with the fewest injuries.
"The big thing this year is that we have had two fatal snowmobile accidents. We haven't had a fatal snowmobile accident since 2019."
Having a snowmobile in proper working order is just as important."Make sure proper maintenance is done," Welk said. "Check your tacks and make sure it’s tight and all your equipment is working properly."
Familiarity with a machine and proper fit are also important, he said.
"Make sure if you're not comfortable with a machine that you take the time to get used to it," Welk said. "Or you can get someone that is familiar with it to run you through what you need to be aware of."
Welk said local snowmobile clubs are valuable sources of information for safe operation of new machines. These clubs also help organize local snowmobile safety training events that can help riders get to know the risks and safety precautions involved with operating a snowmobile.
While it is important for snowmobile owners to be comfortable with the size and speed of their machine, it is especially important in the case of rentals.
"If you are renting, make sure it's not too big for you," Welk said. "For example, maybe don't get the 800cc or 1,000cc if it's not appropriate for your level of experience."
Crow Wing County has not had a fatal snowmobile crash this year. Brad Thesing, recreation sergeant with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, said his county has not experienced more crashes than usual either.
"We have had some crashes, some more significant than others," Thesing said. "I wouldn't necessarily say an uptick, but one big part of it is the weather. When nice weather falls on the weekends, you get a high volume of people on snowmobiles."
Thesing said after the weather improved, the snowmobile trails were suddenly packed with people, which may be contributing to recent crashes. As in Cass County, speed is one cause of crashes, but not the only one.
"Probably the two biggest causes of accidents in the county are typically related to speed and alcohol," Thesing said. "Sometimes people combine the two for particularly catastrophic results."
In addition to safety, Thesing said snowmobilers should be aware that many of the popular trails in the area cross private property with permission from the property owners. For that reason it is important that riders stay on the marked trails.
"We want them to stay on the trails, if they decide to veer off the trails it puts the trail system at risk," Thesing said. "The property owners might revoke the permission allowing the trails to cross their property."
A 54-year-old Eden Prairie man died Tuesday, Feb. 7; a 65-year-old Staples man died Saturday, Feb. 4; a 15-year-old boy was injured and flown to St. Cloud Hospital on Saturday, Feb. 4; and a 51-year-old man was injured Wednesday, Feb. 8, in four separate snowmobile accidents.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call at 9:38 a.m. Feb. 7 reporting a snowmobile crash with injury on the Maple Leaf Snowmobile Trail, along County Road 1 in Maple Township, rural Pequot Lakes.
Deputies and responders arrived on scene and learned that the man was operating a 2009 Ski-Doo snowmobile. While attempting to navigate a driveway approach along the trail, the man was thrown from the snowmobile and struck a power pole.
Lifesaving efforts were performed on scene and the man was pronounced deceased. An autopsy is scheduled with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office and the crash remains under investigation.
Assisting at the scene were the Lake Shore Police Department, Pequot Lakes Fire and Rescue, North Memorial Ambulance and Life Link.
Welk reported that at 11:39 a.m. Feb. 4, the sheriff’s office received a 911 call reporting a snowmobile crash with injuries on the Snoflea snowmobile trail in Home Brook Township, rural Nisswa.
Deputies and first responders arrived near the scene and used tracked rescue vehicles to access the area. Deputies learned that a woman, 49, of Coon Rapids, was operating a 2020 Polaris Indy rental snowmobile with a 15-year-old boy, of Coon Rapids, as rear passenger.
The snowmobile left the trail on a curve and struck a tree, causing the rider and passenger to be ejected from the machine.
The boy was transported via helicopter to St. Cloud Hospital with serious injuries. The woman was transported to Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd.
Both were wearing helmets at the time of the crash.
Assisting at the scene were Pillager Fire and Rescue, and North Memorial Ambulance and Air Care.
Welk reported a second crash at 4:55 p.m. Feb. 4, when the sheriff’s office received a 911 call reporting a snowmobile crash with serious injury on 72nd Street Southwest in Byron Township, rural Staples.
Deputies and responders arrived on scene and found family and bystanders performing CPR on a man, identified as Mark Plattner, 65, of Staples.
Deputies and EMS personnel immediately continued medical aid, but Plattner was pronounced deceased on scene.
If you are renting, make sure it's not too big for you. For example, maybe don't get the 800cc or 1,000cc if it's not appropriate for your level of experience.
The investigation indicated that a family was returning to their residence from a snowmobile trip when the track on Plattner’s 2007 Yamaha snowmobile became dislodged, causing the machine to crash and eject him.
He was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
An autopsy is scheduled with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office and the incident remains under investigation.
Probably the two biggest causes of accidents in the county are typically related to speed and alcohol. Sometimes people combine the two for particularly catastrophic results.
Assisting at the scene were Motley Fire & Rescue, Staples Ambulance and North Memorial Air Care.
Then at 11:52 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, the sheriff’s office received a 911 call of a snowmobile crash with injury on the Paul Bunyan Trail in Shingobee Township, rural Walker.
Deputies and responders arrived in the area of the scene where the victim had been transported and learned that the man, 51, of Chaska, had been operating an Arctic Cat XF1100 snowmobile when it left the trail, striking trees.
The man was treated on scene and transported to a hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, with serious injury.
Assisting on scene were Hackensack Fire and Rescue, North Memorial Ambulance and Air Care.
In Crow Wing County, Sheriff Eric Klang reported that at 12:09 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, the sheriff’s office responded to a snowmobile accident involving injuries on Bay Lake in Bay Lake Township.
It was reported that a crash had occurred and the victim’s leg was caught in the snowmobile. Upon arrival, deputies learned that the victim, a 15-year-old girl from Bloomington, was the passenger on the snowmobile that was pulling a sled. The driver, a 15-year-old girl from Eden Prairie, had lost control of the snowmobile due to slush on the lake and as the snowmobile was stopping, the victim’s leg became caught in the track of the snowmobile.
The Deerwood Fire Department was able to free the girl from the snowmobile. She was airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her condition was unknown.
The incident is under investigation by the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office was assisted by the Deerwood Fire Department, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Ambulance and North Memorial Aircare.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.