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A former theater professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter died Monday night in a crash that involved four vehicles on the south end of the city.

Robert Gardner, 79, of St. Peter, Minn., died in the crash that happened about 5:25 p.m. on Hwy. 169 at Washington Avenue, the State Patrol said.

College officials also confirmed Gardner's death after getting the news early Tuesday.

"It's a tough day around here," said Tim Kennedy, vice president for marketing and communication for the private liberal arts college.

Gardner arrived at Gustavus in 1971 and taught for decades in the Speech and Theatre Department, now the Theatre and Dance Department. As professor emeritus, he returned to Gustavus in 2017 and starred in the school's production of Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of King Lear."

In 2020, Gustavus opened a new laboratory theater and named it after Gardner and his wife, Judy.

"He left such a legacy there," Kennedy said.

Gardner was a passenger in a Toyota Prius, which was making a left turn from northbound Hwy. 169 onto Washington and collided with a Hyundai Sonata headed south on Hwy. 169, the patrol said.

The Prius driver, identified as Judy Gardner, 86, of St. Peter, "failed to yield right away which resulted in vehicles colliding with each other," the patrol said in its report.

Judy Gardner suffered life-threatening injuries, the patrol said.

A third vehicle had to abruptly brake to avoid the crash and was rear-ended by another vehicle. The drivers of those vehicles were not seriously hurt, the patrol said.

Southbound lanes of Hwy. 169 were closed for a few hours because of the crash, but they reopened Monday night.