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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Tragic accident claims lives of three students

MSU faculty, staff and students are mourning the deaths of three students in a tragic accident on I-94 in Michigan on Tuesday.

2006-04-09

CHIKAMING TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Three Minnesota State University, Mankato, students died and five other people riding in the same van were injured when the vehicle crossed a freeway median and collided with two oncoming semitrailers.

At least one of the injured students was in critical condition Tuesday, said Michael Cooper, media relations director at the southern Minnesota university.

"We really are devastated by it," Cooper said. "We're in shock, and our hearts go out to the families."

The group, which included seven students and one faculty member, was headed to Detroit to compete in a Society of Automotive Engineers student competition. The crash took place in Berrien County's Chikaming Township in southwest Lower Michigan.

Township Police Officer George Knoll said the van was heading eastbound on Interstate 94 about 2:30 p.m. CDT when a trailer it was pulling began to fishtail, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The van crossed the median and rolled several times into the path of westbound traffic and the two semis were unable to avoid hitting it, Knoll said.

Two of the students in the van were pronounced dead at the scene and a third was pronounced dead at an area hospital, Knoll said.

The rest of the van's occupants were taken to Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph, where one was in the critical care unit, one was in surgery late Tuesday and one was being treated in the emergency room, said a nursing supervisor who would not give her name. Two others in the van were treated and released, she said.

The semi drivers also were treated for minor injuries, Knoll said.

Authorities did not release names of the dead and injured late Tuesday.

Eastbound lanes were closed for about an hour following the crash, while westbound lanes remained closed for several hours, Knoll said.

Another group of nine people from the university was following the van that crashed. Members of that group were not involved in the accident and were being flown back to Minnesota on Wednesday, Cooper said.

Cooper said the group was towing a Formula series car that the students built for the competition in Detroit, an annual event that includes about 150 colleges and universities from across the country.

"It was their pride and joy throughout the year," said John Frey, dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. "This is a very touching moment for all of us. It was one of those things that you never expect to happen."

The students had been planning, designing and building the single-seat car since August, often spending 25 to 30 hours on it each week. On Monday, they gathered at the university's Nelson Hall garage for last-minute modifications.

In a statement, the university extended condolences to family members of the victims.

"All were exceptional young people with bright futures," the statement said. "They were working on a project about which they were passionate. The formula SAE competition is an exceptional opportunity for the best in our Automotive Engineering Technology program to demonstrate their skills and talents."

Cooper said most of the students were seniors. The university's graduation ceremony was held Saturday.

Frey, university President Richard Davenport and professor Bruce Jones planned to fly to Michigan to be with the surviving students and their families.

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