Officials say they won’t file charges against van driver

Amber Billings

ISU residence hall officials said a van accident in Minnesota this weekend that left one student hospitalized will not result in charges against the driver.

Associate Director of Residence Virginia Arthur said insurance will cover the accident that occurred early Friday morning on Interstate 94 outside of Fergus Falls, Minn. “Why would there be charges against the driver?” she said. “It was an accident; that’s what insurance is for.”

Arthur said the department is not interested in finding fault in the situation.

“We want to make sure people know what to do in situations like this and that everyone is OK,” she said.

Fourteen residence hall students and an adviser were traveling to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks over the weekend when the accident occurred. The group was on its way to attending the Midwest Association of College and University Residence Halls, an Inter-Residence Hall Association sponsored event.

The driver, Kristen Banas, sophomore in mechanical engineering, fell asleep at the wheel around 3:50 a.m. Passenger David Breutzmann said the accident occurred after Banas overcorrected the wheel, causing the van to roll on its side. Banas was unavailable for comment.

IRHA Maple Hall Representative April Samuelson said she woke up to screams, sparks blazing and glass flying as her van hit the highway on the passenger side. “I woke up when we started going into the ditch. I know we slid — that’s the only part I remember. We probably slid a good 20 seconds,” Samuelson, sophomore on an exchange program from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Samuelson said the group left late Thursday night and were scheduled to return on Sunday.

“This was a terrible tragedy that fortunately was not worse,” IRHA President Paul Duncan said. “I am very pleased at how well people stuck together; it made us stronger as a group. It certainly could’ve happened to anyone.”

Duncan, junior in transportation and logistics, was driving the other van and saw the accident happen in his rearview mirror. Duncan said he immediately stopped the van and was the first person to reach to the wrecked van. “I assisted people out of the driver’s side window, and the others were assisted out of the back doors,” he said.

When Samuelson exited the van from the back, she said Heather Minish, sophomore in meteorology, was kneeling on the ground, still inside the van where a window had once been.

“Heather was screaming ‘Call 911, call 911,'” Samuelson said. “I found my cell phone and called; I had no idea where we were. By that time, some other people and a truck driver [who had been behind us] had already called.”

Duncan said he helped Minish, IRHA secretary, out of the van and helped calm her to prevent her from going into shock.

“I immediately requested some blankets and I put them around her,” he said. “I looked at the wound. It wasn’t bleeding profusely, just really bad scrapes.”

Samuelson said the injuries to Minish’s knee are extensive. “There was no skin on her left knee; I don’t think she saw her wounds,” she said.

Minish was taken to Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls with Samuelson, who sustained minor cuts and bruises on her hands, ankle and knees. IRHA Director of Special Events Natasha Krentz, sophomore in aerospace engineering, accompanied the two in the ambulance.

“All Heather said [during the ride to the hospital] was, ‘Call my mom, someone just call my mom,'” Samuelson said.

The entire group was later taken to the hospital. Duncan said Minish was in surgery for over an hour to repair and attach tendons in her left leg and cuts on her feet and right hand. The surgery went smoothly, he said.

“On Sunday she was walking with a walker, and by Thursday she should be released from the hospital,” Duncan said.

Several students continued to MACURH after they found out Minish was all right. Samuelson said she decided to travel back to Ames with Wilson Hall resident Breutzmann, sophomore in computer science, and Storms Hall resident Leslie Tarkowski, freshman in engineering, because she said the experience of the crash was too much to handle.

The three students were taken back by a Fergus Falls resident, Samuelson said, but she cannot remember his name.

“He drove us seven hours to Ames and then had to drive himself back,” she said. “That man deserves a big thank you.”