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At least one person killed, others injured in crashes caused by wrong-way driver on Bong Bridge

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At least one person died and others were injured Friday evening in a pair of crashes caused by a wrong-way driver who traveled along Interstate 35 and onto the Bong Bridge in Duluth.

The Minnesota State Patrol said the wrong-way driver caused two separate crashes minutes apart. The first crash occurred on northbound Interstate 35 at 27th Avenue West at 5:15 p.m. Friday, according to the State Patrol. The second crash, which involved a fatality, occurred shortly afterward in the Duluth-bound lanes of the Bong Bridge.

Both Duluth-bound lanes on the bridge linking Superior to West Duluth were closed for about three hours after the crash.

As of press time the Patrol had not released information about how many vehicles were involved in the crashes; the identities or conditions of anyone involved in the crashes; or any other details about the circumstances of the crashes. It was not clear how far the wrong-way driver traveled on Interstate 35 before the first crash.

Witnesses told the News Tribune that they had close encounters with a vehicle driven by an elderly person traveling southbound on northbound Interstate 35 around 27th Avenue West in Duluth.

Sara Peterson said she was driving north in the left lane on I-35, near the 27th Avenue West exit, when she saw a vehicle driving south coming toward her on the freeway’s shoulder. She slammed on her brakes as much as she could and moved over enough to let the vehicle pass without a collision.

“It was unreal. You just don’t expect to see that. Just very, very scary,” she said.

After the vehicle passed her on the shoulder, her daughters and their friend continued to watch it as it hit a guardrail and then continued to drive the wrong way, she said. She said the vehicle was going “super fast” at probably 60 to 65 miles per hour when it passed her on the shoulder.

She then pulled over at the scene of a multi-vehicle crash on I-35 near 27th Avenue West. Those involved with the crash told her that a vehicle traveling the wrong way had caused them all to crash, she said.

Peterson then turned around and followed the emergency vehicles going to the Bong Bridge, where she saw the scene of the second crash — which involved the same vehicle that was driving the wrong way on I-35, she said.

Christopher Dahl said he was driving in the right lane of northbound I-35 when a truck pulling a camper in the left lane ahead of him swerved to avoid a vehicle driving the wrong way on the freeway. The vehicle was driven by an elderly person who “looked frightened” as the vehicle went by, he said. He estimated the wrong-way vehicle was traveling between 40 and 50 mph.

When he reached Superior with his family, they saw emergency vehicles driving in the direction of the Bong Bridge.

Scott Hebert told the News Tribune that he was driving south on I-35 at about 5:15 p.m. when he started to notice traffic ahead of him was slowing down and traffic on northbound I-35 was becoming erratic.

“I noticed as I crested over the hill, still driving southbound toward 40th … a whole bunch of dust. ... I thought I saw a black car driving along there going southbound in the northbound. That got my attention and it seemed like it got other people’s attention, too. Then there were emergency vehicles coming behind us southbound and everyone starts pulling over,” he said.

When he heard that there had been a crash on the Bong Bridge, he figured that the wrong-way driver had swerved over and went the wrong way up the exit onto the Bong Bridge.