Man held on suspicion of drunken driving in Duluth crash that kills woman, injures grandson

Duluth News Tribune
Woodland crash
Emergency responders work at the site of a two-car crash on Woodland Avenue near Hartley Nature Center on Thursday. (News Tribune)

A trailblazer for women’s softball in Duluth was killed Thursday and her grandson was critically injured when the vehicle she was driving him to school in was struck by an apparent drunk driver on Woodland Avenue about 7:30 a.m.

Paula Bergren, 65, of the Woodland neighborhood was driving her 1995 Ford Taurus southbound when a 2001 Ford F250 Super Duty pickup crossed the center dividing line and collided head-on with her vehicle in the 2900 block of Woodland Avenue, Duluth police said.

After a lengthy extrication process by Duluth firefighters and Gold Cross Ambulance personnel, Bergren was transported to St. Luke’s hospital, where she died of her injuries. Her 13-year-old grandson, Everett Bergren, was transported to Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center, where he was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit in critical condition.

The driver of the pickup, Hawk Patrick Edwards, 19, was not injured. He is being held in the St. Louis County Jail on preliminary charges of criminal vehicular operation resulting in death and criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm.

Duluth police said excessive speed and reckless driving were contributing factors to the crash and that Edwards was under the influence of alcohol. Police said neither the weather nor road conditions contributed to the crash.

According to court records, Edwards pleaded guilty in Carlton County District Court in May to underage consumption.

“Paula was wonderful, smart, loving and she enjoyed life,” said one of her sisters, Sue Spencer of Duluth. “She enjoyed her grandkids so much.’’ Another sister, Wendy Nelson of Two Harbors, echoed the comments.

The victim’s younger sisters said Bergren was giving her grandson a ride to school at the time of the accident. They said the boy stayed overnight with his grandmother because he wanted to be at her house to shovel snow for her Thursday morning in anticipation of a storm. “It’s touch and go,” Nelson said when asked the boy’s prognosis.

The sisters said Bergren had a 25-year career as an engineer with Northwestern Bell in Duluth.

Bergren was well-known in sports circles, especially softball, in the 1970s and 1980s. She served as president of the Minnesota Recreation and Sports Federation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of recreational sports. She was also president of the Duluth Softball Players Association.

In 1976, she was the manager of the Rustic Bar team that won the American Softball Association’s Class A women’s Slow Pitch national championship. She formed the team as Morgan Park Pharmacy and was the team’s ace pitcher for many years.

“Paula was a very kind, big-hearted person,’’ said Kris Lyons, a longtime Moose Lake High School coach and current School Board member there, who played on Rustic Bar’s 1976 national champions. “She always cared about the feelings of others. And she was just a lot of fun.”

Ironically, Bergren conceived the Tessier-Waltman women’s slow pitch tournament in 1973 to memorialize Diane Tessier and Chris Waltman, two 19-year-olds who died in a car crash while returning from a softball tournament earlier that summer. With Bergren doing the organizing, the tournament ran for 35 years before being discontinued in 2007.

In recent years, Bergren carried a business card proclaiming herself “The Newspaper Lady” because of her role as an independent contractor selling subscriptions to the News Tribune at various venues around the city.

“She was great and she had a loyal following of customers,” said Shari Green, News Tribune circulation director. “She was so smooth and personable.”

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