A bus carrying Pelican Rapids students and their chaperones home from a band trip to Chicago rolled onto its side on Interstate 94 in Albertville on Saturday, killing one student and injuring the dozens of others on board, authorities said.
The State Patrol identified the victim as Jessica Weishair, 16, of Barnesville. She was a sophomore at Pelican Rapids High School who had just started driving and got a job at the Cenex gas station in Pelican Rapids, said Mike Boen of the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office.
"This is just a travesty," Boen said.
The bus was traveling west when it toppled over around 5:48 a.m. and skidded into the ditch, according to State Patrol dispatcher Tom Aspling. There were 47 people aboard the bus in addition to the driver.
The cause of the crash wasn't immediately determined, said State Patrol Lt. Mark Peterson. The weather and road conditions at the time were dry.
The crash happened east of the Albertville Mall near the intersection of I-94 and Wright County Road 37, the State Patrol said. Albertville is about 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Peterson said some of the students had arms and legs pinned under the bus when firefighters arrived. Rescuers spent hours freeing them.
"(The students) said it was dark and that they were all asleep," Gloria O'Connell, spokeswoman for Allina Hospitals & Clinics, said. "They woke up when the bus crashed, and the paramedics showed up really fast."
The students and chaperones were taken to hospitals in Coon Rapids, Buffalo, Monticello and Robbinsdale, and at least one remained in critical condition around 4 p.m., hospital spokespersons said. The students on the second bus were unhurt and taken to a Catholic church in Albertville.
Colleen Moerke, the wife of Pelican Rapids High School Principal Glen Moerke, said students had performed Friday in Chicago as part of spring break. Superintendent Deb Wanek said the students had attended a comedy club Friday night and the buses left from there at 10 p.m., with plans to return to Pelican Rapids at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a statement: "The thoughts and prayers of Minnesota are with the people of Pelican Rapids, especially the family of the student whose life was lost in this accident, and we hope for a speedy recovery for those who were injured."
The bus, owned by Richards Transportation Service in Moorhead, was driven by Loren D. Ernst, 69, of Moorhead, the State Patrol said. Company co-owner Jay Richards said the driver began working at Richards Transportation last year after years of driving semi trucks and other heavy equipment.
"He is an experienced driver," said Richards, adding that the accident was the first for the 30-year-old firm.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)