LONG LAKE, Minn. (KMSP) - The Orono High School class of 2008 has lost two classmates on a deadly stretch of Highway 12 in the last 8 months -- the first in August, the second on Saturday morning.
Alex Grenell, 26, was driving east on Highway 12 near Old Crystal Bay Road after 2 a.m. when he rear-ended a Honda Civic, Minnesota State Patrol officials said. Grenell then spun out onto the westbound lane of Highway 12 when he was struck by an oncoming Chevrolet Cruz. The other two drivers were not injured. It's unclear why the Honda had stopped.
Grenell was airlifted to the hospital, where he later died. Grenell graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a degree in civil engineering.
On Aug. 22, an Orono High School graduate from Grenell's class, Chelsea Langhans, 25, was killed in a head-on crash on Highway 12 several miles east of the Long Lake-Orono border. An SUV driven by 69-year-old Arthur Henningsen crossed the center median of the two-lane highway and the two vehicles collided. Henningsen was also killed in the crash.
That August, a few miles west of the Orono accident scene, a 35-year-old man was killed when his car was rear-ended by a full-size motorhome going highway speed.
“It’s a high volume roadway and it’s an older roadway,” Minnesota State Patrol spokesperson Lt. Tiffani Nielson said.
State lawmakers are pushing for a bill to get $15 million to fund safety improvements on Highway 12. The Highway 12 Safety Coalition is also working to address the dangers on the highway that runs through Hennepin and Wright counties.
Ross and Tina Langhans know all too well the pain felt by Grenell's family.
“They’re very sad and we just told them that we’re here for them and it’s going to be a rough road ahead,” frowned Tina Langhans.
“People are still dying!” exclaimed Ross Langhans.
Chelsea killed only about a mile from where Alex crashed. The young woman was struck by an oncoming driver who crossed the centerline.
“If there was a divider down the highway many months ago when my daughter was killed the other guy could’ve never crossed the centerline and hit her,” Chelsea’s mother, Tina, believes.
Alex and Chelsea share much in common. They were once classmates. Both 2008 Orono High School graduates. Yet what separates both Alex’s and Chelsea’s case? Minnesota State Patrol confirm alcohol was detected in Alex’s system.
“How many families have to get that knock on the door in the morning?”
Executive Director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, Jon Cummings, worries the instance of preventable crashes across the state are on the rise.
“Senseless! And it just keeps happening,” Cummings insists.
Meanwhile West Hennepin Public Safety Chief Gary Kroells told Fox 9 Hwy 12 is one of the most dangerous in Minnesota. Since Aug. 2015, there have been seven deaths on Hwy 12. Over the past five years there have been more than 880 crashes on the 10-mile stretch of roadway from Wayzata to Delano.
“Just the world at her feet,” smiled Tina Langhans, "The same with Alex. It’s the exact same thing. A young kid with a huge life in front of him that’s no more.”
Whether or not Alex’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit remains unknown until the Hennepin County Medical Examiner releases toxicology results.