Multiple collisions within 48 hours at Highway 36/Manning Avenue intersection

Scandia firefighter John R. Larson dies in Feb. 28 crash

A series of crashes, one fatal, at state Highway 36 and Manning Avenue in Lake Elmo have left many community members wondering how these collisions might have been prevented.

The first crash occurred around 6 a.m. Feb. 28. Highway 36 was closed for more than two hours as the Minnesota State Patrol investigated the fatal vehicle collision at Manning Avenue.

According to the State Patrol, John R. Larson, 42, of Marine on St. Croix was driving a 1997 Saturn coupe in an east Highway 36 lane. As he legally turned on a green arrow onto northbound Manning Avenue, a Dodge Caravan traveling west on Highway 36 struck his car.

Larson, a volunteer firefighter and rescue captain for Scandia, was transported to Regions Hospital, where he reportedly died a few hours later after surgery.

The driver of the minivan, Kenneth A. Tougaw, 40, of Bayport, sustained minor injuries.

Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts, and no alcohol was detected in either man.

Another collision, this time involving at least three vehicles, occurred mid-afternoon on March 1 at the same intersection. The vehicles were towed from the scene, and the driver’s injuries were less serious than the crash the previous day.

Prior concerns

Lake Elmo resident Larry Green said he has expressed concerns regarding this intersection in the past.

In a lengthy email exchange in 2010 with city officials and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Green detailed a number of “close calls” with drivers westbound on Highway 36 accelerating through the intersection to “beat” yellow and red lights, narrowly missing vehicles legally turning on green left-turn arrows.

In one of the emails three years ago, Green eerily predicted, “The location is one where death is waiting to claim a life, if not lives.”

During an interview last week, Green said he wished traffic engineers had heeded his warnings. “MnDOT was made aware of the situation, and they had the opportunity to take action and failed to do so.”

“They were told what would happen, and it regrettably did.”

Drivers need to obey signals

Most of Highway 36 between Roseville and North St. Paul is a limited-access freeway, but from Oakdale to Stillwater there are signal lights at busy intersections.

In Washington County, vehicles cruise along at normal traffic speeds and then abruptly halt for red lights, creating large back-ups during the morning and evening rush hours.

MnDOT East Area Manager Adam Josephson explained that most of the complaints regarding the Manning Avenue intersection have been operational issues, with signal timing being the main complaint.

“The problem we see most at this intersection is people running a red light. We can fix the timing of the lights, but if people choose not to obey the signals, that’s not something we can fix.”

Lake Elmo and MnDOT just completed an unrelated safety audit of state Highway 5 between Jamaca to Manning avenues. The results showed higher-than-average crash rates, often caused by vehicles going faster than the posted speed limits.


Johanna Holub can be reached at or 651-748-7814.

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