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Forum and wire reports, Published April 05 2008

Deceased student identified after Pelican Rapids bus rollover

UPDATED: 4:30 p.m.

PELICAN RAPIDS, MINN. - One female student is dead and dozens were taken to hospitals early this morning after a bus carrying a group of Pelican Rapids students and their chaperones rolled over on Interstate 94 in Albertville, Minn.

The Minnesota Highway Patrol has identified the deceased student as 16-year-old Jessica Weishair of Barnesville, Minn.

The driver was identified as Loren Ernst, 69, of Moorhead. He was treated and released, according to the Highway Patrol Web site.

The bus was one of two carrying students back from a high school band trip to Chicago. They had been there for the past four days, performing and attending shows, Superintendent Deb Wanek said today.

The charter bus, owned by Richards Transportation of Moorhead, was heading westbound around 5:48 a.m. when it tipped on its side, according to the Pelican Rapids school Web site and the Minnesota Highway Patrol.

Wanek said that four of the people injured during the rollover have been upgraded to serious condition and are still in the hospital. All students on that bus were taken to hospitals in Buffalo, Monticello and Anoka to be checked for injuries. Tom Aspling, a state patrol dispatcher, said 47 people were on board.

"You are entrusted with kids to keep them safe ... this is one of those occasions that turned tragic," Wanek said.

Everyone on the second bus is OK and went to the Catholic church in Albertville. They were interviewed and boarded a bus back to Pelican Rapids around 10:30 a.m.

Allina Medical Transportation confirmed the death earlier this morning. Gloria O'Connell, a spokeswoman for Allina hospitals, said 19 people were taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. She said nine students were treated and released at Buffalo Hospital.

Joni Pawelk, spokeswoman for Monticello-Big Lake Hospital, said 17 people were taken to that hospital; 12 were treated and released, three remained at the hospital and two others were transferred.

The Highway Patrol is at the scene and is investigating. An incident report on the patrol's Web site states that the bus went off the road on a curve. The crash happened east of the Albertville Mall near the intersection of I-94 and Wright County Road 37.

No other details are available at this time.

The Fine Arts Auditorium in Pelican Rapids is open for community members to gather today, and a crisis team is available, according to Wanek.

The school's band room is open for parents of students on the trip today. Clergy and counselors are on hand there.

Also, a service is planned for 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the school gym. There will be a gathering for students first thing Monday morning.

Today's rollover comes on the heels of another deadly Minnesota bus crash involving students in February along Highway 23 near Cottonwood. That crash killed brothers Jesse Javens, 13, and Hunter Javens, 9, both of Cottonwood; Emilee Olson, 9, also of Cottonwood; and Reed Stevens, 12, of Marshall.

That incident involved a school bus. Today's incident on I-94 involved a charter bus. A man who answered the phone at Richards Transportation this morning said he had little information on the incident but said the bus left Chicago sometime last night.

Pelican Rapids is located south and east of Fargo-Moorhead. The school district has about 1,000 students.

Check back on inforum.com throughout the day for updates on this story and read The Forum newspaper Sunday for complete coverage.