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Snowmobiler seeks $50,000 from East Grand Forks for 'negligence'

EAST GRAND FORKS - One of the two men who drove snowmobiles over the dam on the Red River on March 14 on the north side of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks has filed a claim for $50,000 from the city of East Grand Forks for what his attorney said are injuries due to negligence by the city in the incident.

Bruce Carter, 23, drove an Arctic Cat snowmobile over the top of the dam and was able to walk through shallow running water on top of the dam to the Minnesota shore, leaving his upturned snowmobile in the rocks a few feet north of the top of the dam.

With Carter that day on the river was Donn Hilde, 36, who went farther over the dam, hitting the rocks then sliding into open water and briefly submerging, before coming up to grab the edge of ice.

An off-duty police officer from East Grand Forks, his mother and a nearby resident, all who were walking nearby, pulled Hilde to safety. Hilde told his rescuers he couldn't hold on much longer and thanked them after he was pulled to shore.

His snowmobile sank.

Hilde was hospitalized for a few days, but apparently not seriously injured.

It is unclear whether Carter received medical treatment.

In a letter dated March 19 to Ron Galstad, city attorney for East Grand Forks, Carter's attorney, Robert LaBine of Grand Forks, wrote that the letter was a "notice of claim on the part of Bruce Carter in connection with personal injuries he sustained in a snowmobiling accident which occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m. on (March 14) as the result of the negligence of the city of East Grand Forks."

"While the full magnitude of Mr. Carter's injuries is presently unknown, he would make a preliminary demand for compensation of $50,000," LaBine wrote. "Please understand that our demand for compensation may change as our investigation continues."

LaBine declined to say much about the claim Wednesday, including what the alleged injuries or the alleged negligence involved, saying he doesn't want to argue Carter's case in the newspaper.

One of the questions many asked after the accident was why Carter and Hilde, who both live in Grand Forks, could have driven over the dam, especially because of warning signs along the river bank.

After a man drowned in 1999 after going over the dam on a snowmobile, his family pressed the city of Grand Forks to erect warning signs. Some City Council members at the time were reluctant to do so, saying erecting the signs would increase the city's liability in case of an accident.

But after improvements were made to the dam by 2001, warning signs were erected, said Mark Aubol, Grand Forks superintendent of streets. Two signs now are up, about 200 yards apart, south of the dam on the North Dakota side, warning of a dam ahead, Aubol said.

But every spring, he has the signs removed because rising waters and ice chunks would rip them up and out, he said. Each sign costs $5,000.

This year, he had the signs removed March 6 in anticipation of flooding, Aubol said. It's always a tough decision when to remove the signs -- before it's too muddy to reach the hard-to-get-to site but after snowmobiling is done for the season, Aubol said.

East Grand Forks used to have identical signs up along the river but took them down after the flood control project made access to the signs very difficult, Aubol said.

Randy Gust, fire chief and emergency management director, said the city does not have warning signs about the dam, partly because it doesn't want to encourage people to use the river for snowmobiling.

Scott Huizenga, East Grand Forks city administrator, said Carter's claim will go to the city's insurer, which no doubt will investigate it before deciding whether to pay it.