OSCEOLA, Wis. - Authorities have identified the teenager who died Sunday in an accident during a snowmobile training class.
Sarah Thorsland, age 13, was critically injured when a retrofitted snowmobile she was riding crashed into a loading dock Saturday afternoon. She died of those injuries on Sunday. Authorities say Sarah suffered head and spinal injuries even though she was wearing a helmet.
Thorsland is described as a popular 8th grader who attended the Osceola Public Schools. Grief counselors are on scene at the middle school to help children who are struggling with her unexpected death.
Osceola Public Schools Superintendent Mark Luebker issued a press release Monday afternoon. It reads:
The Osceola School District and community suffered a tragic loss October 27, when Sarah Thorsland, an Osceola Middle School student, passed away. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Osceola School District and community go out to the family.
She was a wonderful young lady who loved to dance. Her smile could light up a room. She will be greatly missed by the entire Osceola School District, especially her close friends and teachers.
The Osceola Middle School staff will provide grief counselors at the school to help students, family and friends deal with their thoughts and feelings associated with the loss.
The teen was among dozens taking the snowmobile class, which has been put on for years by the Polk County Trail Association. Witnesses say Thorsland was navigating cones in a slow-speed maneuvering course when the snowmobile accelerated suddenly.
"She had negotiated part of the course and then had an acceleration issue where the snowmobile got going faster than it was supposed to," said Village of Osceola Police Chief Tim Lauridsen. "It went off the course and then it impacted an area by a loading dock."
Lauridsen says the organization has an impeccable safety record, and does not recall even a minor incident in the history of the training class. The fact that a young teen is dead is hitting everyone hard.
"We tend to know everybody and if you don't know everybody, you know their names so it impacts a lot of people," the Chief told KARE 11's Scott Seroka. "The instructors were from here, they work for the schools, the kids who were also here are in the schools, the parents are from around here."
In Wisconsin all children between the ages of 12 and 16 years old are required to take a rider course in order to operate a snowmobile legally. Because they are often taught before the snow flies the skis of the snowmobile are fitted with special wheels to operate on dry land.
Osceola Police and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will conduct a broad investigation into what led to the fatal incident, in hopes they can prevent it from happening again.
"Safety is our highest priority," said Wisconsin DNR Conservation Warden Todd Schaller. "Our DNR safety classes are designed to provide operators with the skills to safely operate recreational vehicles to enjoy Wisconsin's outdoors. The classes are taught by trained, certified and dedicated volunteers. We do not take Saturday's tragic loss of Sarah lightly in any way."
Schaller says it is believed that the tragedy was the first fatality or serious crash to occur during any DNR safety class. The program has been around since 1972 and currently has 879 instructors.
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