March 13, 2018 07:54 PM
Authorities in Swift County say the driver of a school transport van that collided with a semitrailer Monday afternoon failed to yield the right of way when the collision occurred, and that the student passengers were likely unbelted.
Three teenagers remain in critical condition with head, neck and back injuries following the crash.
Seven students from three families in the Hancock Public School District were in the van. According to the Swift County sheriff, 16-year-old Gaige Anderson is in critical condition. His younger brother, 15-year-old Bradyn Sanderson, has been treated and released.
Sixteen-year-old Harleigh Schlief and his 14-year-old sister, Savannah Schlief, are also in critical condition. Their younger siblings, 12-year-old Natasha Schlief and 10-year-old Blade Schlief, were treated for injuries at Swift County Benson Hospital and were scheduled to be released either Tuesday or Wednesday, as was fellow passenger 10-year-old Korah Schroeder.
The driver of the van, 68-year-old Judith Van Eps, was also injured but expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday. District officials say she has driven the route many times since she started her employment with the district in 2012.
The semi driver, 43-year-old Jeremy Beyer, was uninjured in the crash.
The accident happened in rural Danvers, about 12 minutes from Hancock where the students are in school.
The Swift County Sheriff says Eps was about to make her first drop off after school when she crashed into the semi just behind the cab of the truck. Authorities say the van was traveling about 25-30 miles per hour, and that there was a yield sign posted on the side of the gravel road as she approached the intersection. The semi did not have a yield sign and was traveling about 50 mph, according to investigators.
"It does not appear that the students had seat belts on," said Swift County Sheriff Holtz of the early stages of the investigation.
He says investigators are now trying to determine via Minnesota law whether the students should have been buckled up.
"According to the driver of the semi, it appeared that the van was slowing down," Holtz said.
The Hancock Public School District uses smaller vans as a substitute for buses to transport some of the students who live further from the school.
"It's an unusual day for our school district," Hancock Superintendent Loren Hacker said at a news conference Tuesday. "I don't know how else to describe that."
Hacker said he is now focused on next steps.
"Prayers for healing and into the future for these children," Hacker said. "Hug each other. Love conquers all. That's the type of community this is. I really believe this will draw us even closer together."
Holtz said the Minnesota State Patrol should be finishing up reconstruction of the crash Tuesday night or Wednesday. Then the Swift County Sheriff's Department can finish its investigation and hand the case over to the Swift County Attorney to decide whether any charges should be filed.
A fund to benefit the families of the crash victims has been set up at the Community Development Bank in Hancock. To donate, call 320-392-5278.
Updated: March 13, 2018 07:54 PM
Created: March 13, 2018 06:37 PM
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