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Mark E. Mccormick, Springfield News-Leader , Published December 27 2012

Jamestown semi crash victims were here looking for work

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Six Springfield-area men killed Wednesday morning on an icy strip of interstate near Jamestown, N.D., were there looking for work, a family friend said Thursday.

Yolanda Lorge, president of the Hispanic advocacy organization Grupo Latino Americano in Springfield, said the driver, Martin Zuniga, owned a small construction company. He and the men with him were heading to a work site. Lorge didn’t know exactly where the job was.

“That’s what they were doing there,” Lorge said. “They found a job there or something. You have to find work wherever you can.”

But Zuniga, 47, of Republic, his brother, Jose Isabel Avila, 54, of Springfield, and the four other men died when their Chevrolet pickup, traveling west on Interstate 94, went through the median and was struck by an eastbound Freightliner semi.

Springfield residents Mayolo Lopez, 51, Albino Galicia Martinez, 43, and Epitacio Acosta Padron, 50, were also killed, along with Herson Orellana, 34, of Nixa.

Three of the occupants of the pickup were ejected from the vehicle. None was wearing a seat belt, a North Dakota Highway Patrol’s new release said.

The driver of the semi, Stuart Hauge, 23, of Glen Ullin, N.D., was taken to Jamestown Regional Medical Center on Wednesday with minor injuries. He was no longer listed as a patient on Thursday afternoon.

Hauge was wearing a seat belt.

Dee Pohl, parish administrator at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Springfield, said several of the deceased were parishioners.

“We have still been waiting to hear from the families here ... what arrangements will be made,” Pohl said.

Lorge said she considered the Zuniga family among the pioneer Hispanic families who arrived in the Springfield area about 25 years ago.

“Martin, he came here with nothing,” Lorge said. “He didn’t know much about construction, but he worked and he learned how to do just about anything.”

Lorge said the Zuniga family lost two other relatives in a car crash earlier this year.

The families, Lorge said, were trying to figure out how to get their loved ones who died in the crash either back to Springfield or back to the Mexican village where the families are from, El Patol.

“They’re a very good, hardworking family,” Lorge said. “They are a very close-knit family. It’s sad that people who have been able to move as far as they have, that these pioneers aren’t going to be able to see the flowering of the seeds they planted in this area.”

The crash, which occurred about 10:25 a.m., remains under investigation by the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The semi struck the passenger side of the pickup at a right angle and the pickup came to rest in a ditch, a media release said. The semi truck came to rest in the median facing northeast.

Alcohol was not a factor in the crash, authorities said. Road conditions were icy at the time of the crash, Sgt. Josh Rude said Wednesday.

It is not yet known whether speed was a factor in the crash.

The pickup was totaled; the semi sustained about $40,000 in damage.