Car hits buggy; one dead

2010-08-21T00:00:00Z 2010-08-22T09:22:12Z Car hits buggy; one deadBy KJ LANG | La Crosse Tribune
August 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

An Amish woman was killed and a companion injured Thursday evening after a car slammed into the back of a buggy, the second such collision to happen in Trempealeau County this summer.

A sedan driven by Sherrie Oelrich, 44, was northbound on Hwy. 53 just south of Whitehall when she hit the horse-drawn buggy about 7 p.m., according to the Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Department.

Rosanna Wengerd, 40, of Blair died at the crash site. The buggy’s driver, Fannie Wengerd, 33, also of Blair, was treated at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and released.

Oelrich of Whitehall was not injured. Passenger Mildred Aldach, 79, of Blair was taken to an unspecified hospital, according to the sheriff’s department.

In June, a semi-trailer truck hit a horse-drawn buggy on Hwy. 95 east of Blair, injuring four people.

And in April in neighboring Jackson County, a car struck three buggies from behind on Hwy. G in the town of Northfield, leaving four Amish male teens injured, one seriously. A Hixton woman later was accused of fourth-offense driving while intoxicated and hit-and-run causing injury, plus other charges.

The Amish community is growing in Wisconsin, providing more opportunities for collisions.

The state has seen 12 new Amish settlements since 2000, said Stephen Scott, research associate at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist studies in Elizabethtown, Pa.

He estimates the Amish population in Vernon, Monroe, Trempealeau, Jackson and La Crosse counties — along with Minnesota’s Winona County and Iowa’s Allamakee County — rose from about 1,900 in 1991 to 4,400 today.

But despite the recent rash of crashes, area law enforcement said more Amish in the region hasn’t created a notable increase in motor vehicle and buggy collisions in the past decade.

Bicycles riding on the road cause more problems than buggies, said Fillmore County Engineer John Grindeland, noting the county has had only one car-buggy collision in nine years.

“I think people who live down here and drive down here are used to seeing (buggies) on the road and give them wide berth,” Grindeland said.

Most Amish follow traffic laws, officers said, and most have slow-moving vehicle signs on the back of the buggies, though it is not required and some subgroups refuse.

That exemption troubles Jackson County Sheriff Duane Waldera, since a common response from drivers is they didn’t see the buggy before the crash.

“It doesn’t give us the opportunity to make the roadways safe for both horse-drawn carriages and regular motor vehicles,” he said.

Yet such crashes more often can be blamed on the motor vehicle driver not paying attention, not correctly estimating the speed of the buggy or not anticipating buggies around curves or hills, said Lt. John Smart of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.

The buggy in Thursday’s crash did have a slow moving vehicle sign on the back. Authorities still are investigating who might be at fault in the collision, Trempealeau County sheriff’s Sgt. Wayne Dahl said.

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