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Hacker, sheriff provide update on Hancock School crash

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HANCOCK, Minn. - One student injured in the March 12 Hancock School van crash will be released from the hospital today and another two are expected to be released soon, Hancock Public School superintendent Loren Hacker said in a 1 p.m. news conference today.

Hacker said three students are still in the hospital with back neck and head injuries. A seventh student was treated and released. As of Tuesday morning, Gaige Sandeson, 16, Harliegh Schlief, 16, and Savannah Schlief, 14, were in critical condition, a Swift County Sheriff’s Office news release said.  Natasha Schlief, 12, Blade Schlief, 10 and Korah Schroeder, 10, Holloway were listed in stable condition this morning, the news release said.

The release of one student from the hospital and the expected release of two more was encouraging news in what Hacker described as a difficult day for the school district. “It’s an unusual day in our district. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Hacker said.

The driver of the Hancock Public School van that collided with a semi driven by Jeremy Beyer, 43, Danvers, around 4 p.m.  on March 12 at the intersection of Swift County Road 20 and Swift County Road 63 N.W. apparently did not yield to the oncoming semi, Swift County Sheriff John Holtz said at the Tuesday news conference.

The 10 passenger school van was driven by Judith Van Eps, 68, Hancock, who is expected to be released from the hospital today, Hacker said. Van Eps has been employed by the school since 2012.

“She has driven this route many times,” Hacker said.

In response to the crash, the school district had staff meet prior to class so staff could prepare to talk with students today, Hacker said.  The school also made counselors available to the students.

“It’s a shock,” Hacker said of the crash.  But the school and community can lean on each other for support, Hacker said.

“We have a really strong faith-based community here. It’s tight knit,” Hacker said. “We have good times and bad times.” The community rejoices in the good times and shares the sadness in the bad, he said.

“I really believe this will draw us closer together,” Hacker said of the school and community.

While Hacker provided an update on the students’ conditions Holtz shared additional details of the crash during the news conference.

The semi was traveling at about 50 mph east on County Road 20 when the driver said it appeared the school van was going to yield but then, entered the intersection from County Road 63 N.W., Holtz said.  The van was traveling at about 20 to 30 mph, Holtz said. The semi was unable to stop, Holtz said.

The seven students were apparently not wearing seatbelts, Holtz said.  Holtz was uncertain if it was illegal to not wear seatbelts in school vans equipped with them. He was checking with the Minnesota State Patrol on that matter.

 Accounts for the Schlief Benefit Fund, Schroeder Benefit Fund and  Sanderson Benefit Fund  have been started at Community Development Bank in Hancock for the individual families of the injured students. Contributions can be made to specific funds designated for individual families.