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Candy DenOuden, Forum News Service, Published September 26 2013

Authorities ID two dead in S.D. crash; 2-year-old girl pulled from wreck

Two dead in S.D. crash; girl pulled from wreck

MTI students see accident, work with others to extract young victim

By Candy DenOuden

Forum News Service

MITCHELL, S.D. - A group of Mitchell Technical Institute students and others worked together to pull a 2-year-old from a burning vehicle Wednesday after a head-on collision on state Highway 37 that killed two people.

The accident occurred about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday on Highway 37, about six miles south of Mitchell. The drivers of the two vehicles were killed. Neither was wearing a seat belt. They have been identified as Sara Ann Claggett, 23, of Tripp and Donald Julius Geidel, 82, of Dimock.

Claggett’s 2-year-old daughter was in a child safety seat in the back seat of her vehicle.

Brandon Sandoz, a 19-year-old MTI student from Valentine, Neb., said he and his friend, Corey Ramold, 18, of O'Neill, Neb., and Sandoz's girlfriend, Abby Albin, 20, of Emery, were on their way to Nebraska. They saw what Sandoz described as “a big dust cloud” when a red pickup and a white van collided.

The state Department of Public Safety said Claggett’s southbound 2006 Saturn Relay drifted into the northbound lane and collided with Geidel’s northbound 2004 GMC Sierra pickup.

Sandoz, Ramold and Albin pulled over after seeing the crash and ran to the vehicles. Sandoz said he immediately realized the gravity of the situation.

“When we ran up there, the first thing I did was looked underneath the van and realized there was a gas leak,” Sandoz said. “Yeah, we knew there was a danger doing it, but as long as we got that little girl out, we felt a little bit of relief.”

Sandoz said that while Ramold checked on the driver of the pickup Geidel, Sandoz checked on the mother and daughter in the van.

Sandoz said the woman did not have a pulse, but the girl did.

“I got her out as quickly as I could,” he said.

Sandoz said he put the girl on the tailgate of Ramold’s pickup, and Albin stayed with her while Ramold and Sandoz went back and attempted to extricate the other driver. But by then, Sandoz said, it was too late to get to the driver of the van.

“The van was completely engulfed in flames, so we couldn’t get her out,” he said.

Noticing a gas leak running along the ground between the two vehicles, Sandoz said he and Ramold worked with about three other witnesses, some of whom Sandoz believed to be farmers from the area, to separate the vehicles. He said they hooked a chain up to a pickup and dragged the crashed pickup into the east ditch.

“We pulled it into the ditch so we could keep it from blowing up like the van did,” he said.

Still working together, Sandoz said they tried to contain the flames and get the driver, an elderly male, out of the pickup. When they got the man out, Sandoz said they started doing chest compressions, and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter.

“A minute to two minutes after we got the man out, his pickup went up in flames,” Sandoz said. “We kind of made it a personal goal to get the man out, and we did successfully get him out.”

The smoke from the flames could be seen from miles away, and traffic was diverted by emergency workers. Soon after, Sandoz said, firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames.

The girl was taken to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell and then transported to a Sioux Falls hospital. The state Department of Public Safety described her as "seriously injured."