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Ambulance en route to Grand Forks hospital collides with car

GRAND FORKS -- With lights flashing and sirens sounding, a Red Lake Falls ambulance with a patient on board collided with a car in a busy East Grand Forks intersection Monday afternoon.

Police Officer Dave Thompson said the ambulance was heading west on U.S. Highway 2 shortly before 1 p.m. when it hit the driver's door of a 1998 Buick Park Avenue going south on state Highway 220.

Thompson said two ambulances responded to the crash and each brought a patient to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks: One transported the Buick's driver, an 88-year-old East Grand Forks man; the other took the patient who was inside the ambulance that crashed.

That patient was headed for Altru before the collision to be treated for a substantial cut that left tendons showing on his right index finger, Thompson said. The patient had come from Red Lake Falls, a town about 40 miles east of Grand Forks.

Altru did not release the conditions of the men transported. Police did not make public the name of anyone involved in the crash, citing a pending investigation. Thompson said a prosecutor would review the department's investigation to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

When the crash occurred, the Buick's driver had a green light and the ambulance driver, a 45-year-old from Red Lake Falls, had a red light, Thompson said.

Police did not say if a certain party was at fault. In general, drivers must yield to emergency vehicles using light and sirens, but "with red lights and sirens, we still have to drive with due care," Sgt. Mike Swang said of emergency vehicle operators.

After its initial collision with the ambulance, the Buick collided with a 2007 GMC Sierra pickup that was facing east in a turning lane of Highway 2 to go north on Highway 220, Thompson said. The Buick sustained severe damage; the ambulance had moderate damage; and the pickup received minor damage, he said.

The intersection, where two four-lane roads meet, has sound-activated sensors meant to change the traffic lights for oncoming emergency vehicles.

"They look like speakers pointing each direction," Swang said of the sensors mounted on traffic poles.

When the sensors hear the sound of sirens, the traffic lights should change in favor of the direction the vehicle with sirens is traveling, Swang said. The lights should change eventually but not instantly when sirens, which can have various settings, are at the right frequency, he said.

Thompson said the system did not go into effect before Monday's crash.