Posted 9/19/12 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
Shortly before noon on Monday, Sept. 17, a semi crashed into the Johnson Corners Christian Academy, lodging itself and a parked truck that belonged to one of the academy’s students, within the school building.
According to eyewitness Hope Thompson, one of the elementary students at the Academy, a silver car pulled out in front of a semi traveling west on N.D. Highway 73. The car hit the semi, and according to Jerry Samuelson, McKenzie County Emergency manager, the driver of the car was killed in the crash.
Caleb Timmons, a high school student at the Academy, reports that the semi apparently became airborne upon hitting the vehicle, making the driver unable to apply his brakes. The semi then crashed through a fence and plowed into a truck parked in front of the school, sending it into the building.
That day, 17 students were at school as were six staff members. It was the hour, according to Rachel Thompson, the mother of two Academy students, when the students were supposed to be eating their lunch and the school administrator, Pastor Adrian Timmons, would have most likely been in his office.
However, according to the eyewitnesses, no one from the school was injured.
“We were playing outside when we saw the truck hit the car and head for the school,” states Hope. According to Hope, they were waiting for one of the students to tie her shoes and, “if she had taken much longer, we would have still been in there.”
Isaac Thompson, Hope’s brother and an eighth grader at the Academy, states that he was getting water when he saw the truck come through the school walls.
“I had just set my lunch down on the table before going to get something to drink,” Isaac states.
Instead, he was far enough away to be able to run to safety.
Story after story confirms that the room should have been full of students, yet the path was clear for the oncoming semi.
Caleb was in the room when the semi entered and saw something leaking from the cab of the semi.
“I was afraid it was gas and the cab was going to catch on fire,” states Caleb. In a moment of bravery, he then helped the semi driver out of his truck, without regard for what might happen to himself.
“The emergency responders really need to be given a lot of credit in how they dealt with this incident,” states Samuelson.
According to Samuelson, the first report was that a bomb had exploded at the school, “but that was quickly corrected.”
In an instant, however, when emergency services heard of a semi crashing into a school, they didn’t hesitate to react.
Samuelson states that businesses gave up their employees and volunteers from the Keene Fire Department, the Watford City Crash and Rescue, the McKenzie County Ambulance Service and the McKenzie County Emergency Management responded to the accident in addition to a number of McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department deputies and the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
“That wasn’t the only emergency call then, either,” states Samuelson. “There were reports of a grass fire, another fire and a vehicle crash. And these guys are mostly volunteer.”
The heroism didn’t end with the emergency responders, either.
Samuelson states that the Watford City High School sent a bus to the Academy to pick up the staff and students and transport them to the Epiphany Catholic Church, right across the street from the hospital.
“We called the hospital ahead of time and they were great,” Samuelson states. “They made room for us, and wouldn’t let anyone go without being checked out.”
Students, staff and parents waited at the Catholic Church while nurses and doctors examined everyone.
Karen Holte, who is on the McKenzie County Emergency Response team, echoes Samuelson’s praise of the area emergency responders, the hospital and clinic staff, and everyone who had a hand in coordinating the effort that made sure every potential victim from the crash received help.
At the end of the day on Monday, workers were still working to get the semi out of the school building. There are also concerns of the building collapsing.