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Man dies in head-on crash

By Staff | Jul 19, 2008

The smashed pickup truck cab is visible in the center of the picture above, with the box still intact at the right. The accident happened Monday morning south of Huntley.

In a split second conservationists, sportsmen, firearms enthusiasts and anyone who knew Grant Bahls of Huntley lost a good friend when he was killed in an accident Monday morning.

The 49-year-old Bahls was traveling north on County Highway 1 when his pickup truck collided head-on with an empty semi-trailer driven by Rick Johnson, 46, of Winnebago.

“He came across the yellow line. I hit the brakes. That’s all I could do. I didn’t have time to move the steering wheel,” he says.

Johnson, who owns and operates Johnson Trucking of Winnebago, was on his way to the Guckeen Elevator for a load of grain when the accident occurred.

Bahls was pronounced dead at the scene, while Johnson was transported to United Hospital in Blue Earth, where he had X-rays taken and was treated and released.

Ironically, a recent wake service for a mutual friend brought the two together for a last time. Bahls’ humor and joking nature are what Johnson remembers of their encounter.

“What are you doing you little punk?” Bahls asked Johnson at the wake.

The accident canceled a special city council meeting Monday night in Winnebago.

Johnson, a member of the council, says Mayor Randy Nowak decided the meeting should not be held. Johnson says his chest area hit the steering wheel and caused bruising. He says medical officials told him the next 24 hours would be critical to see if internal bleeding develops.

In a press release from City Administrator Jennifer Feely, the special meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum.

Members of the Winnebago Fire Department were called to the scene of the fatality about 1 1/2 miles south of Huntley.

Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley says firefighters used “Jaws of Life” equipment to free Bahls from his vehicle.

“They took it real hard when they heard it was Grant,” Gormley says of the firefighters.

Deputy sheriff Todd Duit was among those responding to two 911 calls received at 8:28 a.m. He says Bahls was well known in the area.

“He was well liked. He did a lot for kids and hunting. He taught a firearms safety class,” says Duit.

Firefighter Bret Osborn and others at the scene tried to determine how many years Bahls has conducted the safety classes. They were in agreement it has been for many years.

“He taught me when I was a kid, and I’m 30 years old,” says Osborn.

Bob Brush, president of the Lura Lake Association, called Bahls a real sportsman who never hesitated when it came time to volunteering.

He says the group’s annual ice-fishing contest for kids is an event Bahls looked forward to.

“He was always willing to help. All I had to do was give him a call. He was great,” says Brush. “He’s going to be sorely missed.”

In May, Bahls received a DNR volunteer award at the Lura Lake Association Fair.

“It acknowledges all the conservation work he had done and for supporting numerous activities in the area. He essentially donated all his time,” says Hugh Valiant, area supervisor of the DNR Fisheries in Waterville.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, National Rifle Association, Center Creek Gun Club were among many organizations benefiting from Bahls’ involvement.

Jayson Fenske says Bahls, the current president of Center Creek, invited him to be part of the gun club in 1994.

Fenske describes his friend as “a good solid guy, who cared about his community.”

“He didn’t just talk about doing things, he did them. He took action,” says Fenske. “If everybody did 5 percent of what he did, we wouldn’t have a volunteering problem.”

A half hour before his death, Bahls placed an ad in the Register for a permit to carry class later this month at the Center Creek Gun Club, east of Huntley.

The instructor of the class was scheduled to be Paul Beinke, owner of Red Bear Hunting Emporium in North Mankato.

Beinke remembers Bahls as having a passion for hunting and target shooting, as well as being mindful of conservation issues.

“Grant arranged the class, supplied the hotdogs and all the humor,” says Beinke. “It’s a sad day. I will definitely miss the big guy.”

Johnson returned to the accident scene after going to the hospital.

He was interviewed by authorities and a MnDOT official, and accepted condolences from those who know him.

“It’s going to get tougher to take as the day goes on,” he says. “This is the day you dread your whole trucking life.”

The Winnebago Ambulance and Police Department, Minnesota State Patrol and JPR Towing assisted at the scene.

The sheriff’s office and State Patrol is continuing their investigation of the accident.