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Hayden Goethe, Published March 24 2012

Reigning ND cross country champ killed in automobile accident

GARRISON, N.D. – Robyn Essler, who won the North Dakota Class B state girls cross country title in October, was killed after a head-on automobile accident Friday afternoon.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol says the 15-year-old girl from Garrison was killed after her vehicle collided with a fuel truck just east of the town.

Troopers say Essler was driving on Highway 37 about 1.5 miles east of Garrison on Friday afternoon when she crossed the center line. They say the truck driver,

49-year-old Graling Steinwand, applied the brakes and turned right to avoid the collision but the car hit the truck.

Essler was just five months removed from winning a state cross country title as a freshman at the Class B meet in Fargo.

“A bunch of our girls knew (Essler) awfully well,” said Hillsboro cross country coach Kirk Zink, who guided the Burros to the team title while Essler was crowned as the individual champion.

Zink said that his runners were at the Class B state girls basketball tournament with Essler last weekend in Bismarck. During the final state tournament of the winter season, the parade of champions takes place between games, honoring champions from the past school year.

“They stood together in that line for 20 or 30 minutes waiting to go out,” said Zink, whose daughter Brooklyn was among the Hillsboro runners present. “They had some stories about what she said. … They got to know her pretty well. Not fun to read the posts on Facebook or anything.”

The patrol said Essler was ejected from the car and killed.

The fuel truck’s engine and cab caught fire but was contained away from the tanker portion. The patrol says Steinwand was injured but wearing a seat belt.

“From everyone’s view, she was a great student and a phenomenal athlete,” Zink said of Essler. “There’s been so much of this stuff lately with these young kids that it makes you sit down with your own kids and visit a little bit more.”

Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558

The Associated Press contributed to this story