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Bryan Horwath and Amy Dalrymple, Published September 17 2012

Accident kills 1, sends semi crashing into school in McKenzie County

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — One person is dead following a two-vehicle crash that sent a semi-truck barreling into a school Monday afternoon.

After colliding with a car at the intersection of highways 23 and 73 in McKenzie County, the truck slammed into an area of classrooms at Johnson Corners Christian Academy, sending students and teachers scurrying for safety.

“We had no idea what hit us,” said Janice Sanford, a teacher at the school. “We thought it was a bomb.”

At 12:25 p.m., a Pontiac sedan heading south on Hwy 23 failed to yield to a semi traveling westbound on Hwy 73. After colliding with the car, the semi went up an embankment, through a chain-link fence, clipped a school bus and slammed 60 feet into the school, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Three children, a teacher and the driver of the Power Fuels semi were treated at McKenzie County Hospital and released. The female driver of the Pontiac was pronounced dead, according to the patrol. The identities of the two drivers involved in the crash were not available as of Monday night.

Sanford said there were 17 students and seven teachers in the school — which is connected with the Johnson Corners Wesleyan Church — at the time of the crash.

“This is a Christian school, and I can’t help but think that God was looking out for us today,” Sanford said. “It just happened to be lunch time and everyone was in the commons area, otherwise this would have been much worse.”

The truck went directly through an area of empty classrooms and demolished the boys’ restroom, sending one boy who was in the bathroom running for his life, according to Sanford.

Johnson Corners teacher Rachel Burns, who lives on the property, remained at the scene for several hours after the crash, wearing a bandage on her right leg.

“I was standing in front of the office, eating a brownie, when the wall just scooped me up,” Burns said. “I bumped my knee and have some bruises, but nothing serious. It’s amazing more people weren’t injured. If class would have been in session, there would have been some deceased students.”

Torrie Adams, a graduate of the school who attends church at the complex was at the scene shortly after the crash happened and took photos.

“You kind of look at it and go wow,” Adams said. “How fast was it going to have ended up there?”

A number of bystanders noted that the truck went directly through the office of the school’s principal, who was out of town.

“If he’d have been in his office, he’d have been killed,” Adams said. “It’s a bad intersection and they drive too fast, all of them do. There’s a lot of careless driving around here.”

Because of confusion about what had happened, an initial call to emergency responders reported a bomb had gone off at the school. Located 16 miles east of Watford City, the school is a private, non-profit, parent cooperative, according to its website.

Officials from the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office and the Watford City Police Department assisted at the scene.