UPDATE: Detroit Lakes man faces multiple charges after crashing into Lakes Inn, seriously injuring 2 people
Detroit Lakes police and firefighters, Becker County deputies, state troopers and medical personnel from Essentia St. Mary’s EMS all worked together to safely remove the two from the debris.
DETROIT LAKES — Two Detroit Lakes residents were seriously injured on Saturday, May 7 when a pickup truck crashed into the Lakes Inn motel where they were staying, leaving them trapped in the debris.
Frank and Jacklyn Benninger, both 77 years old, were apparently resting in bed when the truck struck their motel room, the closest unit to the street in the 10-unit motel at 702 West Lake Drive in Detroit Lakes.
Reports also indicated a significant natural gas leak occurred due to the crash, according to a news release from Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd.
The Detroit Lakes Fire Department and Minnesota Energy took care of the natural gas leak. The crash investigation is ongoing.
Local police and firefighters, Becker County deputies, state troopers and medical personnel from Essentia Health St. Mary’s EMS all worked together to safely remove the Benningers from the debris. Both were transported to Essentia Health St. Mary’s in Detroit Lakes, then transferred to hospitals in Fargo.
Official condition reports were not available Monday, but both were alive, according to Todd.
The pickup truck that hit the building drove off and left the scene, but witnesses gave police a description of the truck and the license plate number. While police units were responding to the crash, a Detroit Lakes police officer saw the suspect vehicle parked on Rossman Avenue at Reynolds Street. The officer immediately smelled the odor of alcohol coming from the driver, who appeared to be in a state of shock and confusion, according to Becker County District Court records.
Wade Olds, 53, of Detroit Lakes, was arrested and booked into the Becker County Jail for criminal vehicular operation, great bodily harm, and under the influence of alcohol. He is also accused of failing to stop after a collision that caused injury or death.
Interviewed at the Becker County Jail, Olds told an officer he believes he reached down for something and the next thing he knew he hit something, but didn't know what it was. He admitted he panicked and drove away, according to court records. Olds admitted to drinking earlier in the day, and admitted there might be marijuana in his system, but denied using it on the day of the crash.
The criminal complaint states that Frank Benninger had his spleen removed, had half a dozen broken ribs and had three broken vertebrae in his back. Jacklyn Benninger had a severed spinal cord and confirmed paralysis from the waist down. She also had a punctured lung, a punctured liver, and numerous fractured ribs.
The Benningers had been staying at the motel on a monthly basis since last autumn while waiting for an apartment unit to open up, said Lakes Inn owner Tim Westbrook.
When the pickup truck left West Lake Drive and crashed into the building, it hit that unit in the worst possible place, he said. “That was the worst spot they could have been in the whole room,” he said.
Westbrook didn’t see the crash, but he heard it, and heard another crash when the pickup truck backed up into a tree and took off. “He (the driver) was there for just a few seconds,” said Westbrook, who smelled the strong odor of natural gas right after the crash.
Fortunately, “it was a quick shut-off,” he said.
The gas line shut-off valve was below the gas meter and the line ruptured above the meter. The hot water boiler system also narrowly escaped serious damage, he said.
The motel remains open, except for the seriously-damaged unit closest to the lake.
He praised emergency responders for doing a great job.
“It went as smooth as it could go,” he said, adding that his insurance agent was right on the scene. “He helped us secure it.”