Two Minnesota motorcyclists killed in fiery crash on Memorial Day

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Two Minnesotans are dead after their Harley Davidson motorcycle collided with an SUV that tried turning in front of them in western Wisconsin on Memorial Day.

According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the motorcycle was being operated by James Marinaro, 58, of New Brighton, and was traveling westbound on Highway 10 with passenger Denise Thomas, 52, of Blaine.

At 6 p.m., a Ford Explorer being driven by a 20-year-old female from Ellsworth, Wis., was traveling eastbound on Highway 10 and attempted to make a left hand turn onto 450th Avenue in Ellsworth Township. The driver was delivering pizzas for a local restaurant.

“Marinaro struck the Ford Explorer as it was attempting to make the turn,” The Pierce County Sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Marinaro and his female passenger were both ejected upon impact. The motorcycle and automobile started on fire as well.”

Investigators told Fox 9, the driver claims she did not see the motorcycle. Neither alcohol nor distracted driving is believed to be a contributing factor to the fiery collision.

Both Marinaro and Thomas, who were not wearing helmets, were pronounced dead on scene by the Pierce County Medical Examiner. The young woman was transported by ambulance to the River Falls Area Hospital with undetermined injuries.

Thomas’ family returned to the crash scene Tuesday to leave flowers for their mother. It is the second tragedy in the last couple years for the family. Denise’s husband died from brain cancer two-and-a-half years ago. And she had just started dating Marinaro.

“She was finally seeing happiness in her life again,” Jessie Lund, Thomas' daughter, said. “It was  so heartwarming to see her happy again without our Dad. Now she’s gone because people  don’t see motorcycles. It’s just not fair.”

Thomas is survived by two children, Lund and her brother Bradley, as well as five grandchildren. She worked for years in front desk security at Medtronic in Fridley. 

"I was so proud for how strong she has been the last two years," Lund said. "And now, she’s gone too. Back with Daddy. I just can’t believe it.”

Family members have set up a fundraising account, to donate click here.

Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

Coincidentally, May is National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. According to WisDOT, 81 motorcycle riders and passengers died in Wisconsin traffic crashes last year.

"Drivers can easily misjudge the speed and distance of an approaching motorcycle because of its smaller dimensions,” said David Pabst, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety.  “To prevent crashes, drivers should check the position of a motorcycle at least two or three times before they proceed through an intersection or make a turn."

Pabst said motorcyclists should always wear clothing and gear that is protective and conspicuous, including a helmet that meets or exceeds U.S. Department of Transportation standards.

"Tragically, approximately two out of three motorcyclists who died in crashes from 2010 to 2014 were not wearing helmets," Pabst said.