Alexandria, MN Van, Bus And Snow Plow Crash, Feb 1994


Alexandria, Minn. (AP) - A van carrying cosmetology students rear-ended a snowplow on a snowy interstate Tuesday, then collided with a bus filled with casino-bound passengers, killing six people and injuring about 50.
The six fatalities and the most critically injured were on the van, which was carrying 14 people from a Fargo, N.D., cosmetology school in the Twin Cities.
Among the injured is BABETT HEIL, 18, of McClusky, who was in the van. She has a broken nose and black eyes, said her grandmother, Viola Heil of McClusky. BABETT is the daughter of Kathy Heil of McClusky and Jim Heil of Bismarck.
"It was a pretty horrific scene with the most obvious damage to the van, which got hit on the driver's side," said Hollan Lommen, who arrived on the scene about 45 minutes after the accident.
"The whole side of the van was smashed all the way through to the other side of the vehicle. It was just twisted metal," said Lommen, a graphics editor at The Echo-Press in Alexandria.
Lt. Wes Greve of the State Patrol said the van was trying to pass another vehicle when it rear-ended the snowplow, which was in the left lane.
"At that point, quite a snow cloud was being kicked up (by the plow), causing a visibility problem," Greve said.
The van spun out of control, and the bus behind it struck the van on the driver's side, he said. The van ended up in the median.
The State Police also was investigating whether the bus bumped the van from behind, causing it to lose control.
The victims ranged in age from 19 to 35 and all were from North Dakota or northwestern Minnesota.
Many people on the bus received cuts and bruises from the impact, which one passenger described as a "jolt." Authorities said they planned to interview the drivers of the van and bus. The snowplow driver was not hurt.
The accident scene was calm with everyone helping each other, said Terry Eilers, owner of Douglas County Ambulance, who transported victims in the Douglas County Hospital.
"I had a fireman drive with me to the hospital and we lost one on the way in," he said. "She was with us a little bit and conscious and then we just lost her."
Killed were CYHTHIA MAE ALLRICH, 19, Twin Valley, Minn.; ROBIN MICHELE BREITBARTH, 20, Fargo; AUDRA ANN FRANK, 22, New England, N.D.; JEANIE HOLDEN, 35, Fargo; and JACQUELYN MARIE RICHARD, 21, Glyndon, Minn. Authorities did not release the name of the sixth victim, from Fargo, because her family could not be reached.
Seven people were hospitalized in serious or critical condition at the Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, hospital administrator Bill Flaig said. Two were hospitalized in fair condition at St. Cloud Hospital, and two women in critical condition were transferred to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. The others were treated and released.
The accident happened as heavy snow fell around 8:15 a.m. about 10 miles east of Alexandria on Interstate 94 near the Osakis exit, which is about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The interstate's eastbound lane was reopened at 2:45 p.m.
The students from Josef's School of Hair Design in Fargo were en route to Minneapolis-St. Paul, said the school's director, Mario Olivieri, who declined further comment.
The charter bus is owned by Anoka-based Action One and was operated by Better Entertainment Travel Brokers of Brooklyn Center.

Bismarck Tribune North Dakota 1994-02-09