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Truck driver who struck lift bridge cited for incident

The St. Croix County Sheriff's Department has issued a citation to the driver of a truck that struck the Stillwater Lift Bridge on July 7.

Elwyn Juenke, 70, received a $168.60 ticket for inattentive driving for driving a truck carrying a boom that exceeded the bridge's posted height limit onto the bridge.

A resulting collision led the Minnesota Department of Transportation to close the bridge while workers repair damage to 11 separate elements of the 1931 steel bridge's overhead structure.

Last week, St. Croix County Sheriff Dennis Hillstead said his department could have done little to prevent the accident, which occurred as the truck was traveling west from the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River.

"Our jurisdiction is about 750 square miles and we are responsible to provide law enforcement for about 60,000 people," he said. "We try to keep four or five officers patrolling at all times but, with the budget reductions, there is only so much we can do."

County deputies do stop trucks that appear grossly out of line with weight and length restrictions, but, he said, "with height it's more difficult unless you're out there with a measuring tape" which deputies don't have time to do.

Lampert's, the trucking company that employs Juenke, did not return a request for information about his status with the company placed on Thursday.

With the exception of a five-day period during Stillwater's Lumberjack Days festival (July 23-27), the bridge will remain closed for repairs until sometime in early August. The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises motorists to follow a posted detour south to the Interstate 94 bridge at Hudson.

A process called "heat straightening" will be employed to repair both horizontal and vertical supports bent by the truck's boom.

Once repairs are completed, the bridge will return to its usual restrictions barring single-axle loads 28 tons or greater, multi-axle loads 40 tons or greater and traffic exceeding 13 feet 2 inches in height.

Hillstead predicted further crashes before a new St. Croix River Crossing - currently planned for 2013 --is built.

"This won't be fixed until they decide to build a new bridge," he said. "It depends on when people decide the lives of people override whether a bridge is scenic or other concerns."

"For me, it's a very frustrating delay that puts peoples lives and livelihoods at risk," he said further. "Something needs to be done and done quickly."