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Twenty years after her husband’s death, Kelci Stringer is back at Vikings games

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Twenty years after her husband’s death, Kelci Stringer is back at Vikings games

When Kelci Stringer was asked recently how long she had a strained relationship with the Vikings, she said, “Until now.”

Stringer was the wife of Vikings tackle Korey Stringer, who died on Aug. 1, 2001, of complications from heatstroke after collapsing during a training camp practice in Mankato, when the heat index was in excess of 100 degrees. She ended up suing the Vikings in 2002, a case that was dismissed in 2003.

She also sued the NFL, a case settled in 2009 with the only public disclosure being that the Korey Stringer Institute would be established. The institute, which works to help prevent heat-related deaths in football and other sports, opened on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, Conn., in 2010.

Kelci Stringer had mostly distanced herself from the Vikings after the lawsuits were filed, although she did attend an event in 2016 in the Twin Cities to commemorate the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium. It wasn’t until last Sunday that she attended her first Vikings game since the 2001 season, when her late husband had his jersey No. 77 retired and was inducted into the Ring of Honor.

Stringer, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., was left two tickets by the Vikings, and she went with a friend to their 34-28 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Stringer 47, has been invited by the Vikings to attend next Sunday’s game against Dallas at U.S. Bank Stadium along with her son, Kodie, 23, who lives in Los Angeles, and her daughter, True, 10, who also lives in Charlotte. Also attending will be Stringer’s longtime agent Jimmy Gould, now chairman of the Korey Stringer Institute.

“It’s a big deal for the 20th (anniversary) for them to acknowledge us coming out,” said Stringer, the institute’s founder and spokesperson. “I’m excited going to the game in Minnesota. I can’t wait. My son is excited, too.”

Former Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer died of heat stroke at the team’s Mankato training camp in 2001. His number has since been retired. (Getty Images: Scott Halleran)

The disagreements Stringer and Gould had with the Vikings came when Red McCombs owned the team. Gould told the Pioneer Press last summer that the lawsuits wouldn’t have been filed had McCombs paid Stringer’s family the $8 million remaining on his contract. Stringer, 27 when he died, played for the Vikings for six years.

The Wilfs bought the team from McCombs in 2005, and Gould said they have been fully supportive of the Korey Stringer Institute. Before the 20th anniversary of Stringer’s death, Vikings chief operating officer Andrew Miller reached out to Gould and then to Kelci Stringer to discuss ways in which the team could honor his legacy. During a July 31 night practice, the team showed a video of the late tackle on the scoreboard, had a moment of silence and painted “77” on a practice field.

The team also joined with the NFL Foundation and Korey Stringer Institute to create the Korey and Kelci Stringer Athletic Training Scholarship with an initial $50,000 endowment that will help students in a partnership with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.

“It was genuine,’’ Kelci Stringer said of her initial phone call with Miller. “He was saying at the end of the day, it’s still a nucleus, it’s a family. … And so he represented that, ‘With the Vikings, it’s still family, and it’s been 20 years, and we just want to reach out and meet you.’ That was pretty cool.”

Gould said he and Stringer have been impressed with Miller, who joined the team in 2019.

“Andrew reached out to me and introduced himself to me and it was just an immediate friendship,’’ Gould said. “He said all of the right things. He said, ‘We want to recognize the contributions that Korey Stringer has made, and how can we honor him on the 20th anniversary?’ He has been amazing.

“For me, it was an awakening on the part of the Vikings led by Andrew Miller and the Wilf family to say, ‘We want Kelci to be a part of the family. We want to hold Korey up for what he contributed to the Vikings and we want to honor him and we want to honor the family and what they lost and what they went through and how the game has changed for the better (due to work by the Korey Stringer Institute).’ ’’

Gould, who lives in Cincinnati, will attend his first Vikings game since the 2001 season. He called it important to be there with the Stringer family.

“For Kelci, it’s time for her to close a certain chapter and open up a new chapter,’’ Gould said. “When old doors close, new doors open. … Things have kind of gone full circle with everything that has happened over the past 20 years.”

Stringer and Gould both anticipate there will be some sort of acknowledgment of Korey Stringer at the game but they’re not sure what it will be. Miller said the Vikings are “still working through” what will be done during the game, which will be televised nationally by NBC on Sunday Night Football.

“We’re looking forward to hosting them,’’ Miller said. “It’s something we started talking about in the summertime as we were commemorating the 20th anniversary of Korey’s passing.”

Miller said he hopes the team will now develop a long-term relationship with the Stringer family and Gould.

“We’ve had a lot of positive conversations with both (Stringer and Gould) in recognizing what Korey Stringer has meant to the organization and his playing career and as a member of the Ring of Honor as well as his legacy,’’ Miller said. “We really felt strongly as an organization, from ownership on down, that we really want to make strides to get her involved and make sure that we were doing the right things to commemorate Korey’s legacy.”

Kelci Stringer said she’s “totally” looking to become more involved with the Vikings, and perhaps continuing some things her late husband once did in the community. When Korey Stringer played for the Vikings, the family lived in Eden Prairie, and the tackle was very active in charitable events.

“It’s 20 years now,’’ she said. “It’s more growth. … Going forward, I see the maturity, I see the benefit. … And so I’m more excited, especially going to the game in Minnesota, to probably do a little bit more work through the NFL or as it works with the Vikings in general because I think I have a lot of perspective that I’m sure a lot of people could use or just even appreciate.”

When Kelci Stringer attended the Vikings’ game against Carolina, it brought back some emotions. She sat in a section that included wives and girlfriends of Minnesota players.

“To come (there) was bittersweet,’’ she said. “I’m sitting next to some of the young wives and it was so bittersweet. They’re all like cheering for their husbands.”

After not going to a Vikings game for 20 years, she is now hoping that returning to one in the Twin Cities can become an annual occurrence.

“Wouldn’t that be nice,’’ she said.

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How data is reshaping real estate

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How data is reshaping real estate

By Patrick Sisson, The New York Times Company

Jordan Fisher was troubled. Every variety of the Red Bull energy drink comes in a similar metallic can, and his company’s camera system, which tracks products that customers pick up in stores, was having trouble distinguishing them.

This obstacle was one of many that his company, Standard AI, faced while retrofitting a Circle K convenience store in Tempe, Arizona, with computer vision software, which tracks every item that customers pick up so they can simply scan their app-enabled phone to pay as they leave, eliminating the checkout line. A network of more than 100 cameras can identify any of the thousands of similarly sized candy bars or beverages grabbed by customers, including cans of Red Bull, now identifiable thanks to a combination of geometric projections and higher-resolution cameras.

This tracking of consumer activity within the store — where shoppers look and linger, with cameras capturing their interactions and their near-misses — is part of a growing effort to use data collection to make commercial real estate more efficient.

“Checkout is kind of the killer app, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Fisher, CEO of Standard AI, which hones camera accuracy in high-volume, high-density environments. “You have a system that understands where people are in real time, down to the centimeter. It’s all about utilization of real estate.”

From the invasion of big-box stores to the ascendancy of e-commerce and, most recently, pandemic lockdowns, physical retail may seem stuck in perpetual crisis. But in-person shopping is still very popular and the subject of significant investment. (Retail tech investment hit a record $31.5 billion in the second quarter this year.) Amazon has spent generously on physical retail, including $13.4 billion on the acquisition of Whole Foods, and the development of its Just Walk Out system, which kick-started a race for cashierless checkout among grocery stores and retailers.

The added layers of technology in stores and entertainment venues — crowd-tracking cameras, information gleaned from smartphones, tallies of neighborhood foot traffic and sophisticated demographic data — aim to replicate the data measurement and analysis of the online experience.

But privacy advocates are sounding the alarm about the technology as Big Tech is under increased scrutiny. Congressional testimony from the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, in October has intensified calls for new regulations to rein in Silicon Valley giants.

Outcast via The New York Times

A handout photo shows the crowd analysis software used by Standard AI to track customers in a Circle K store in Tempe, Arizona. Tech start-ups are offering new tools to help retailers and entertainment venues be more efficient by counting crowds, tracking foot traffic and following local shopping habits.

Complicating efforts to address privacy concerns is a lack of regulatory clarity. Without an overarching federal privacy law or even a shared definition of personal data, retailers must sort through layers of state and municipal rules, such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act, said Gary Kibel, a partner at law firm Davis+Gilbert who specializes in retail privacy.

Technology companies counter the pushback by noting that their systems are designed to limit what they collect and anonymize the rest. For instance, Standard AI’s system does not capture faces, so they cannot be analyzed with facial recognition technology.

The growing volume of data on consumer and crowd behavior is having significant implications on real estate design. It is making even physical space more interactive for marketers.

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Can supersonic air travel fly again?

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Can supersonic air travel fly again?

By Roy Furchgott, The New York Times Company

Despite the promise of two-hour flights from New York to Los Angeles, the supersonic airline industry never really got off the ground. That is largely because of physics: specifically, the sonic boom, the thunderclap noise made when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier, which essentially doomed supersonic aviation as a viable business.

In 1960s-era tests, booms reportedly broke windows, cracked plaster and knocked knickknacks from shelves; in 1973, the Federal Aviation Administration forbade civilian supersonic aircraft from flying over land. Planes could go supersonic only over the ocean — most famously, the Concorde, the sleek British-French passenger plane that flew a handful of routes in less than half the average time. But potentially lucrative overland routes were off-limits, restricting supersonic travel’s business prospects.

NASA and aviation entrepreneurs, however, are working to change that, with new aircraft designed to turn the boom into a “sonic thump” that is no louder than a car door being slammed 20 feet away. That may induce the FAA to lift the ban, which could allow for two-hour coast-to-coast supersonic flights.

“The main reason NASA is working on this is to enable regulation for supersonic flight,” said Craig Nickol, NASA’s low-boom flight demonstration project manager. “The main objective is to open up new markets.”

The supersonic age dawned Oct. 14, 1947, when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier while piloting the rocket-powered Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert. In the following decades, the barrier was also broken by a succession of military jets, once by a passenger airliner (during a test flight of a Douglas DC-8 in 1961) and, ultimately, by regular commercial service from the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 and the Concorde, both long defunct.

The far more successful Concorde mostly traveled trans-Atlantic routes at about $6,000 to $7,000 per ticket for a 3 1/2 hour flight in a cramped, noisy cabin, which was nonetheless considered glamorous. The Champagne-and-caviar flights were discontinued in 2003 after 27 years of intermittent profitability and one crash that killed 113 people. What the Concorde’s chief pilot called “the airliner of the future” was consigned to the past.

But the possibility of a supersonic renaissance was arriving even as the Concorde was on its way out. The slide rules and log tables used to design it had been pushed aside by supercomputers, which enabled engineers to test and tweak virtual aircraft designs comparatively cheaply and quickly.

That is exactly what DARPA, the research and development wing of the U.S. Defense Department, and NASA did in 2003 with the Shaped Sonic Boom Experiment, which confirmed that computer-designed modifications to a Northrop F-5E jet would hush the sonic boom in the way the software forecasted.

“We flew it and measured it, and our model predicted the boom very well,” Nickol said. “It was the first time we could prove that we could shape the sonic boom in a way we could predict.” That demonstration set the course for research to follow.

Taming the boom is complicated. Air has substance, which an aircraft slices through, much as a boat moves through water. A plane pushes air aside as it flies, creating ripples of air pressure. As an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, pressure builds up on surfaces like the nose and tail, creating waves of high pressure in front and low pressure behind. At the speed of sound, waves pile up and combine to reach the ground as an abrupt change in pressure that is heard as that thunderclap sound.

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CDOT’s Safety Patrol works to clear highway crashes as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving

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CDOT’s Safety Patrol works to clear highway crashes as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving

The crash that hit Interstate 225 in Aurora at the height of the evening rush hour was garden-variety: A sedan smashed into the back of a sport-utility vehicle, and nobody was hurt.

But the wreck quickly backed up northbound traffic all the same, with the heavily damaged Toyota Camry stuck, its engine dead, in one of the middle lanes near Colfax Avenue.

John “Boston” Alborghetti knew just what to do. Arriving before police, the CDOT Safety Patrol driver first checked to make sure no one was hurt. Then he used his specially outfitted Ford F-250 pickup to nudge the Camry over to the shoulder, where it joined the Jeep that had been hit.

Traffic was moving in all four lanes within five minutes.

Patrollers in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s roadside assistance program have kept tabs on a growing network of metro Denver and Colorado highways for 29 years, offering free help to stranded motorists while assisting authorities at crash scenes. The Safety Patrol recently added new routes in metro Denver to its network and signed up a new sponsor, the Geico insurance company, which will contribute $550,000 a year toward the program’s $6.5 million budget, CDOT says.

Alborghetti’s response on I-225 on the recent Monday evening prioritized safety and speed, since a quicker clearance of the highway lessens the chances for another crash. He left broken glass and debris on the pavement, but the people involved in the crash were safely on the shoulder.

“If (the stalled car) was in the left lane or right lane — not in the middle — I would have kept the lane shut down with my cones and I would have swept the debris up,” said Alborghetti, 50, a no-nonsense Army Reservist with a Boston accent whose nickname was inspired by his upbringing there.

“But people just want to go — I want to open it up quick and fast, get people going.”

Safety Patrol drivers don’t investigate crashes or issue tickets, but they do help responding state troopers and police officers with traffic control and safety. They also can clear most anything that’s blocking the highway, whether it’s a car, a large appliance that’s fallen off a truck — or even an 18-wheeler, which takes two Safety Patrol drivers working in tandem, Alborghetti said.

For three years, he’s been the operational manager for IncidentClear, CDOT’s Safety Patrol contractor. Its drivers assist more than 40,000 motorists a year, CDOT says, between crash responses and helping drivers who need a flat tire changed, a jump-start, extra fuel or lockout assistance.

When needed, the program’s towing partner provides free tows to safe, well-lit locations off the highway.

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, buckles his seat-belt after helping two drivers involved in a crash on I-70 in Denver during his evening shift driving on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

“We see accidents happen right in front of us”

Alborghetti was joined by a Denver Post reporter and photographer on that Monday in early November as he drove nearly 100 miles of metro Denver highways in three and a half hours.

As Alborghetti drove, he kept an eye out for collisions and for vehicles pulled over on the shoulders.

“So as I’m looking, I’m not only looking at this side (of the highway), I’m looking at that side, too,” he said as he neared the Sixth Avenue exit on Interstate 25 near downtown. “Because an accident may happen before CDOT or everybody else knows about it. We see accidents happen right in front of us.”

The afternoon had started quietly. Alborghetti’s first stop was on Interstate 70 near Sheridan Boulevard, where officers were responding to a car traveling the wrong direction in the eastbound lanes. He stopped in the left lane, his truck’s yellow emergency lights flashing, and placed cones to block it off for extra safety.

The driver turned out to be an older man who entered on the wrong ramp. By then, he’d pulled over on the inside shoulder and was talking with the officers. Alborghetti said they asked family members to come and drive the man home.

A half-hour later, while driving on I-25 near University Boulevard, Alborghetti spotted police and a CDOT incident management crew on the other side of the highway. He exited and turned back. They were managing traffic for a food truck that was stranded and blocking the right lane after its back axel busted, throwing the wheels out of alignment.

But this time, there was nothing for him to do, since the truck was upright and couldn’t move on its tires. If it had overturned and “it’s sitting out there, then boom! We will push it,” he said. Instead, Denver police called in a flatbed truck.

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol ...

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, walks at the scene of a food truck spin-out on I-25 in Denver on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

New patrols added on I-270, I-76

The Safety Patrol has nearly two dozen trucks stocked with equipment, extra gas and cleanup materials. Its drivers patrol interstates 25, 70 and 225 as well as the Sixth Avenue Freeway and C-470 in the Denver area; stretches of I-25 near Colorado Springs and Fort Collins; and I-70 in the mountains between Golden and Vail.

In mid-November, the Safety Patrol added new regular patrols on interstates 76 and 270 in metro Denver.

Most shifts cover the morning and evening rush hours, but some Safety Patrol drivers roam the highways during off-peak hours and on weekends, especially on the I-70 mountain stretch. They operate everywhere except construction zones, which have their own safety crews.

“I really want to tell people,” Alborghetti said, that “if you see one of our trucks … move out of the way — because there is something hindering and stopping you from going home to your family, going to work, going out on a hot date or something,” and the Safety Patrol can get traffic moving again.

The Navy veteran lives in Castle Rock and now is in the Army Reserves. He said his most recent deployment was in the last year at the U.S. military’s detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He worked in security at Lockheed Martin’s Jefferson County campus, he said, before joining IncidentClear and the Safety Patrol.

Five years from retirement, he says he enjoys overseeing the patrol crews, while driving routes himself occasionally.

It’s a job that brings gratitude from the people helped by the patrol drivers. But the job also comes with its share of dangers, despite extensive training aimed at minimizing safety risks while working in traffic. Safety Patrol drivers also might be the first ones to arrive at a fatal crash scene — an incident that’s more likely to shut down a highway while it’s sorted out.

The drivers’ pay starts at $18 an hour and increases by $1 each year, Alborghetti said, with drivers eligible for safety bonuses.

For some, the variety is appealing. Drivers see similar patterns of crashes and roadside breakdowns, but each day brings a reshuffled deck — with winter storms throwing an extra wildcard into the mix.

“What’s today, Monday?” Alborghetti said, noting it had been relatively tame. “It’s a free-for-all on Fridays.”

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol ...

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, fills out a report after responding to a wrong-way driver on I-70 in Arvada on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

Reducing the risk of more crashes

The quiet afternoon would soon give way to a flurry of radio traffic after 5 p.m., as rush-hour traffic grew denser.

But before that happened, Alborghetti talked about how the Safety Patrol responds to crashes. There’s a reason the drivers move quickly, with the program touting an average clearance time of less than 12 minutes.

As traffic backs up and drivers slam on the brakes, each minute brings a greater risk of another crash.

Alborghetti took the ramp from C-470 back onto I-70 as the sun was setting. He passed the stretch in Lakewood where the driver of a runaway semitrailer crashed into stopped traffic in April 2019, setting off a fiery chain-reaction pileup involving 28 vehicles. Four people died, and the driver recently was convicted of vehicular homicide.

The tragedy was a secondary crash, Alborghetti pointed out: That traffic was stopped because of a less-severe crash involving a car, a semitrailer and a school bus that happened five miles up the highway in Wheat Ridge about an hour earlier.

Clearing that one was more complicated than a fender-bender. But he said the time it took prompted hindsight discussions within CDOT and the Safety Patrol that underlined the importance of clearing most crashes quickly, to lessen the traffic backup.

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