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Published July 19, 2011, 03:07 PM

Police: Stenehjem Didn't Wear Seat Belt Before Crash

North Dakota's Senate majority leader, Bob Stenehjem, was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the sport utility vehicle he was driving when he was killed in an Alaskan highway crash, authorities said Tuesday.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Senate majority leader, Bob Stenehjem, was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the sport utility vehicle he was driving when he was killed in an Alaskan highway crash, authorities said Tuesday.

An Alaska State Troopers report said there was no indication alcohol was a factor in the one-vehicle accident, which happened at about noon Monday local time. Its cause was unclear.

Bob Stenehjem, a Bismarck state senator for 18 years and the Republican majority leader for a decade, had been on a fishing trip with family members. Stenehjem worked as the city of Bismarck's road and streets foreman. His brother, Wayne Stenehjem, is North Dakota's attorney general.

A blood sample from Bob Stenehjem's body will be analyzed for the presence of alcohol or drugs, which is standard procedure in a fatal accident, said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services.

Alaska's medical examiner may perform an autopsy on Bob Stenehjem on Wednesday, Wilkinson said, depending on whether a cause of death is evident from an external inspection of his body.

Results of the blood test and any autopsy will be provided to Alaska police and Stenehjem's family but will not be made public, Wilkinson said.

Stenehjem's funeral arrangements were pending Tuesday. An investigation into the crash is continuing, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Stenehjem, 59, was driving north on the Sterling Highway toward Soldotna, a city on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, on Monday when he crossed the center line, went across the highway's southbound lane and into a roadside ditch, the report says.

The SUV hit an embankment, rolled several times and came to rest on its roof in a driveway, the report says. Bob Stenehjem; his son, Robert W. Stenehjem Jr., 34, who is known as Rob to his family; and a friend of Rob Stenehjem's, Keith Johnson, 34, of Hinckley, Minn., were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the vehicle, the report says.

Daniel Stenehjem, 11, who is Rob Stenehjem's son and Bob Stenehjem's grandson, was wearing a seat belt and remained in the SUV, the report says. The boy was treated at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna and released.

Alaska law requires everyone in a vehicle to be wearing a safety belt, Peters said. It is a primary enforcement law, which means police may stop a vehicle if a driver or passenger is seen driving without wearing a seat belt. It carries a $15 maximum fine for a first offense.

Violators of North Dakota's seat-belt law may be ticketed only if police first pull over the motorist for a separate offense. As a state senator, Bob Stenehjem opposed proposals to make North Dakota's seat-belt law into a primary enforcement law, and friends said he personally disliked wearing a seat belt.

Rob Stenehjem was listed in fair condition at the Soldotna hospital Tuesday, said hospital spokeswoman Bonnie Nichols. She said he had surgery to repair a broken right wrist and had a puncture to his chin, mouth injuries, bruises to his eyes and abrasions all over his body.

Johnson was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where spokeswoman Crystal Bailey said he was listed in critical condition on Tuesday. Bailey said she could not provide details about Johnson's injuries.

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