Woman struck by car gives others new life

November 8, 2018

At least two people received organs donated by a woman who suffered fatal injuries Friday morning when she was crossing a street and struck by a driver.

Kari Dawn Koens, 47, was crossing Second Street Southwest at 18th Avenue about 6:45 a.m. when she was struck by Nicole Rae Alexander, 38, who was driving east on Second Street.

Koens remained in critical condition as compatible organ recipients were located. She was taken into surgery Monday at Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys.

Friends said it’s fitting that a caring, giving person like Koens would give life-saving gifts to others.

Stacey Greely, who had known Koens since they were both teens in the Duluth-Superior area, said knowing Koens would be thrilled she helped people in that way has brought her comfort.

“Just knowing that gives us some comfort in the midst of this horrible, horrible thing,” Greely said.

Greely described her friend as someone with a perpetual smile who radiated joy. She had a way of making anyone she talked to feel like the center of the world, Greely said.

“If everybody in the world was as kind and giving as she was, the world would be a much, much better place,” Greely said.

Koens took in and helped foster cats and loved good discussions, especially over politics.

“If she had one complaint about God’s timing, she would have expressed her displeasure that God took her home before she got a chance to vote,” Greely said.

She was also a woman of deep Christian faith, she added.

Preventable incident

Koens had previously suffered minor injuries after being struck by a car in June at the same intersection. The driver in that incident did not stop.

“She was still trying to get answers about that in September,” said Kristin June, Koen’s friend.

June, who often walks to work, said she recalled the two discussed pedestrian safety after that.

“It’s kind of a bad intersection there,” June said, adding drivers don’t always yield to pedestrians in that spot.

“I take this one kind of personally because I was involved in the design of that area,” said Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik.

Second Street was redesigned with travel lanes reduced from seven to four, stoplight pedestrian crossings at 19th and 23rd Avenues and a push-button pedestrian crossing at 21st Avenue.

Wojcik has been a proponent for building infrastructure to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Some initiatives have moved forward, such as redesign of Second Street. Others failed to get support from the city council such as reducing 16th Street from four lanes to three and installing a roundabout at Maywood Road and 16th Street. Engineering data shows three-lane streets and roundabouts create safer streets, he added.

“We could be building safer roads, but we’re just not doing that,” Wojcik said. “Politicians are overruling staff.”

Wojcik said changes are coming next year to help improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Buffered bike lanes will be added to Center Street and Third and Fourth avenues.

The construction has made walking difficult for people walking in downtown, June added.

“I have to cross Center Street three times to get to work,” June said.

“We have to disallow the complete closing of sidewalks unless there’s signal crossings on both sides,” he said.

Regardless of infrastructure, the responsibility is the drivers to be alert and drive safe, June and Wojcik said.

“There’s not a good solution for bad drivers,” he said.

Investigation continues

The incident that claimed Koens’ life is still under investigation, said Police Capt. Casey Moilanen.

Minnesota law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks and specifies that a driver cannot overtake another car that’s stopped to permit a pedestrian to cross. The investigation will look at multiple factors including whether there’s evidence Alexander had enough time or opportunity to stop.

“There are several things we have to consider before we can charge a person with a crime,” he said, adding investigators have gotten multiple witness statements from the scene.

Despite what the laws say, enforcement is key, June said.

“You hate for someone’s death to bring up awareness,” June said. “But responsibility ultimately lies with the drivers.”

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