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Wendy Reuer, Published January 09 2013

Son of Missouri man killed in crash near Jamestown reaches out to semi driver

FARGO – Guillermo Zuniga was alone Monday for the first time in weeks, his mind ruminating a Dec. 26 accident that killed his father, uncle and four of their friends on Interstate 94 near Jamestown, N.D.

Zuniga’s thoughts especially locked on the sole survivor of the accident: a Glen Ullin, N.D., man his same age, 23 years old.

Zuniga said he couldn’t imagine what the driver, Stuart Hauge, was thinking or feeling. So he reached out to the North Dakota Highway Patrol and got a number for Hauge.

Zuniga called him Tuesday evening.

“I don’t know how I would take it. I wanted to let him know – I wanted to reassure him that I wasn’t mad at him. I don’t put any of the blame on him,” Zuniga said.

Hauge was driving a semi east on Interstate 94 just outside of Jamestown when Zuniga’s father, Martin Zuniga, lost control of his westbound pickup and slid across the median into the path of Hauge.

Martin Zuniga, 47; and Jose Isabel Avila, 54, Guillermo’s uncle; as well as 51-year-old Mayolo Lopez; 43-year-old Albino Galicia Martinez; 50-year-old Epitacio Acosta Padron; and 34-year-old Herson Orellana died in the accident that occurred nearly 900 miles from their homes in the Springfield, Mo., area.

Highway Patrol Lt. Brian Niewind said at the time that there was little Hauge could have done to avoid the accident.

“It was an accident, just an accident,” Guillermo Zuniga said. “My father was very [spiritual]. I think God wanted him at that moment.”

Stuart’s father, Tom Hauge, said it made his son’s day to hear from Zuniga.

Hauge, who was en route to pick up a load of beet pulp that morning, has since stopped trucking, his father said.

“He just couldn’t get that accident out of his head,” Hauge said.

Stuart Hauge could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Zuniga said he didn’t tell his family before making the call to Hauge, but he suspects they also hold no ill will toward the young driver.

Tom Hauge said his family knows what the Zunigas are going through. He lost his oldest son in a traffic accident.

“We really, really feel terrible for those families,” Hauge said.

One last father-son talk

Zuniga – who works at a hospital – was scheduled to work Christmas Day. He didn’t get to spend the holiday with his father, but he spoke with him over the phone.

Zuniga said his father kept telling him how proud he was of him. The man who only finished fourth-grade in Mexico moved to the U.S. about 25 years ago.

He was adamant his two sons, Guillermo and older brother, Jesus, attend college, which they did.

“His education was cut short, so he wanted to make sure we were educated well,” Zuniga said.

Zuniga said his father lived to help others without expectation of a return. Work was important to him and so was family. In their last conversation, the proud father hauntingly told his son that his work was important, so it was OK he would miss the holiday.

“He kept saying, ‘I’m proud of you, son,’ ” Zuniga said.

It was the last time Zuniga would tell his son he loved him.

That night, Martin Zuniga and the five men left for a masonry job Zuniga had lined up in Williston, N.D.

“I told him to drive safe and do a good job. He always took pride in his work,” Guillermo said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530