BENSON, Minn. - Authorities have identified the victims of a violent crash between a school van and a semi near Hancock in Swift County Monday.
The Swift County Sheriff says it appears the school van, driven by 68-year-old Judith Van Eps of Hancock, pulled out onto County Road 20 at the intersection with 130th Avenue Northwest and made contact with a wheel on the driver's side of the semi. The results were described as "horrific," leaving the van driver and seven students injured, some of them critically.
- Gaige Sanderson, age 16, of Danvers-satisfactory condition
- Harleigh Schlief, age 16, of Danvers-critical condition
- Savannah Schlief, age 14, of Danvers-critical condition
- Natasha Schlief, age 12, Danvers-stable condition
- Blade Schlief, age 10, of Danvers-stable condition
- Korah Schroeder, age 10, of Holloway-stable condition
- Braydn Sanderson, age 15, of Danvers-treated and released
Bus driver Judith Van Eps is also hospitalized in stable condition. The driver of the semi was treated and released on the scene.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon Swift County Sheriff John Holtz said it appears the van driver did not obey a yield sign, and the semi driver had the right of way. Holtz said there was no reason for Van Eps to be distracted, that sight lines were clear, and he told reporters she has driven this route many times. She has worked for the district since 2012. The sheriff said that drivers in the community are used to sharing the roads with semis, trailers and tractors every day. "Everybody should be prepared for everything on the road," he said simply.
The van was carrying the seven students home from school when it struck the semi around 3:45 p.m. Reconstruction investigators say the van was equipped with seat belts, but it appears none of the children was wearing them. Despite the severity of the crash, Sheriff Holtz knows there could have been a different outcome. "It could have been worse," he sighed.
At this point one student has been released from the hospital, another should be out by the end of the day. The two others listed as stable are expected to be released tomorrow, while it will be a longer road for the three students listed as critical.
Hancock is a small district, with one building that houses 350 students K-12. Superintendent Lorne Hacker says the mood is "reflective" today. "It's not a very happy day." Hacker said the high school principal has personally contacted the families of all children who were injured in the crash, asking what they need in this tough time.
"We are working diligently with local authorities to make sure that student and family needs are immediately addressed," Hacker said in a statement. When asked how the community will get through this, the superintendent said simply "I think just hug each other. Love conquers all... that's just the kind of community this is."
The Community Bank of Hancock has established a fund to help the families impacted by this crash. For the time being they are only accepting walk-up donations, but may attempt to set up online donations as well.