Train hits bus, killing driver, 1 student and injuring 12 more

LARIMORE, N.D. -- A bus returning students home after school here Monday struck a westbound train, killing the driver, 62-year-old Max Danner, and a 17-year-old girl.

The crash also injured the dozen other student passengers who were admitted to hospitals across the region. Some students sustained multiple injuries, but no conditions were released Monday night.

"It's a hell of a tragedy," said Eddy Larsen, who has known Danner for 20 years as a fellow farmer. "He was a good friend. My kids all had him in school. My oldest boy is a carpenter (now) and I imagine (Max) had a lot to do with it."

Along with carpentry, Danner taught agriculture, engines, welding, and livestock at Larimore High School, according to the school's website.

The crash site is about 30 miles west of Grand Forks in northeast North Dakota.

The bus was traveling north on 36th Street Northeast, a gravel road near the intersection of Grand Forks County Road 4, about 3:40 p.m., when it failed to yield to a stop sign and struck the westbound BNSF Railway train, ejecting several children from the bus, said Lt. Troy Hischer of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The BNSF Railway train was pulling flatbed cars and was not carrying anything at the time of the crash, said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth.

The school bus was totaled in the accident, with its front end crushed and facing the tracks, which run parallel to County Road 4, south of the road.

There are stop signs before the tracks, and the intersection is also marked with railroad crossing signs.

Hischer said the weather was clear and the road was not icy. It is unknown whether Danner had a medical condition that may have been a factor in the crash.

'Pretty chaotic'

The children riding the bus varied widely in age, ranging from kindergarten to grade 12, Hischer said.

"Anytime you have children involved like this, it's pretty chaotic," Hischer said at the scene.

Karyn Hendrickson, who lives south of the railroad tracks near the site of the incident, said the school bus had just dropped off her young daughter before emergency vehicles swarmed the area.

Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office, North Dakota Highway Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Altru Health System all responded.

In Grand Forks, Altru Hospital was treating six patients as of 7:25 p.m. Three others were in the process of being transferred to other hospitals and one had been discharged, according to a news release.

Altru Chief Operating Officer Brad Wehe said he couldn't specify where those patients were being transferred, only that they were heading to regional facilities for a higher level of care.

Another update on patient conditions is expected Tuesday morning, the release said.

The school responds

After the crash, authorities worked to locate all of the children's parents.

Larimore Elementary Principal Leslie Wiegandt and Superintendent Roger Abbe were at the scene, as were school board members, according to school officials and family members.

School board members then gathered with administration at Larimore Junior-Senior High School to meet with parents, and counselors were made available for students.

Both administrators and school board members were teary-eyed as they made phone calls and comforted one another. Faculty canceled district sports practices and sports games in light of the accident. School officials and board members both declined to comment. The district held a staff meeting at 7:30 p.m., but it was also closed to the media.

The school district has 204 students enrolled in K-12 in its two buildings, and 42 teachers, according to the district's website.

'I hope it never happens here'

With the temperature near zero, people were gathered near the scene, some weeping, whereas others watched from their cars near the county road.

One woman was standing beside her car at a juncture near the crash site blocked by patrol cars. She appeared distraught as the man she had driven there with jogged through a snowy ditch alongside County Road 4 from the crash site toward their car. They sped off shortly thereafter.

Kittery Wakefield, a clerk at the Tesoro gas station in Larimore, said townspeople had been cycling through the gas station since the collision, talking about the accident.

Wakefield is in the same grade as the 17-year-old girl who died in the crash.

While she did not know her well, Wakefield said the students who had come through the gas station suggested their class go as one to the girl's funeral, to pay their respects.

Larimore Mayor Ray Fegter, who has been a volunteer firefighter in Larimore for 38 years, struggled to find the right words in describing the accident.

"And you think, 'I hope it never happens here,''' he said. "Well, today it did. It'll take a few days and who knows how many months for the community to recover from this. It'll be a memory we wish we never had."


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