Judge's ruling pending in bus crash that killed Pelican Rapids girl
A judge is expected to decide soon whether to allow charges against a bus driver for a fatal crash to move forward.
Loren Ernst, 69, of Moorhead was charged of criminal vehicular homicide, criminal vehicular injury and criminal vehicular operation.
However, his attorney has contested the charges, which stem from a crash that killed Jessica Weishair, 16, last April.
Ernst was one of two drivers of buses carrying high school band students from Pelican Rapids, Minn. The students were returning from a trip to Chicago when the bus Ernst was driving crashed on Interstate 94 near Albertville.
A judge is weighing arguments in the court case to determine whether there is enough probable cause for it to move toward trial.
The county attorney handling the case contends Ernst was tired when the crash occurred.
The bus company, Richards Transportation, and Ernst's attorney deny the claim.
According to Forum archives, court papers filed in the case claim Ernst confided to a colleague about an hour before the incident that he was feeling tired.
The exchange occurred about 4:30 a.m. April 5 between Loren Ernst , 69, of Moorhead and Jacob Blotsky, 70, of Fargo, at a highway rest area near Menomonie, Wis., according to court documents obtained by The Forum.
Before the rest stop, Blotsky noticed Ernst drifting toward the right shoulder of Interstate 94 at least two times.
What Ernst said to Blotsky at the rest stop is outlined in a transcript of a conversation an investigator had with Blotsky five days after the crash.
Investigator: "Were you going to say anything to him (Ernst ) about what you saw?"
Blotsky: "You know, I can't remember because he (Ernst ) asked me right off the bat, 'Jake, was I drifting a couple of times?' And I say, 'Yes, you were.' And he said, 'Damn, I'm tired.'''
Blotsky told the investigator that before the drivers returned to their respective buses, he told Ernst to pull off the highway if he felt too tired to drive.
About an hour and 20 minutes later, the bus Ernst was driving left the road and tipped over.
Weishair died when she was partially ejected from the bus and pinned beneath the vehicle.
His attorney has asked the court to dismiss the charges, claiming they lack probable cause.
In response, the Wright County Attorney's Office has provided the court with hundreds of pages of records, including law enforcement interviews with Blotsky and Ernst .
One is a transcript of an interview between an investigator and Ernst at a hospital in Monticello, Minn., just hours after the crash.
In the interview, Ernst tells the investigator he got plenty of sleep the night of Thursday, April 3.
"It was a good night's sleep, the best night I've had in a long time," Ernst is quoted as saying.
He said he also napped during the day on Friday, April 4, the day the two buses left Chicago about 10 p.m.
The crash occurred about 5:48 a.m. the next morning, when Ernst failed to negotiate a curve near Albertville, Minn.
The following is from one of the court transcripts:
Ernst : "I just felt it (the right front wheel) drop off the shoulder of the road, and I tried to pull it back. I didn't want to pull it too hard. It just got away from me."
Investigator: "Which way did you pull back to?"
Ernst : "To the left."
Investigator: "Can you tell me anything about how far it went on?"
Ernst : "I couldn't tell you. It happened so fast and so slow. ... I don't know how to explain it."
Investigator: "Is it at all possible that you might have dozed a little bit?"
Ernst : "I could have, it's very possible. I don't know." based on what I seen. I would say he was dozing off."
During an interview between investigators and Ernst last April 21, Ernst , who had an attorney with him, said he did not say to anyone that he felt tired while driving the morning of the crash.
Investigator: "At any point, did you make any comments to anybody that you were feeling fatigued?
Ernst : "No, I didn't."
Investigator: "Through our investigation, we have information to lead us to believe that there was fatigue causing issues for this crash. ... Do you recall a conversation that you had with somebody involved with this trip?"
Attorney: "Right now, I'm going to ask him not to answer that."
Investigator: "Do you feel at all that fatigue is a factor in this crash?" Ernst : "No, I don't."