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Pelican Rapids school bus accident investigation nears finish

Residents of Pelican Rapids say emotions are still frayed and hearts remain heavy as they wait to learn why a school bus returning from a trip to Chicago in April left the road and crashed, killing one student and injuring others.

"It's still very raw. There are certainly questions, but kind of a resolve: This is what we have to deal with," said the Rev. Roger Rotvold, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church.

Jessica Weishair, 16, who attended the church and was a band student at Pelican Rapids High School, died April 5 after the bus she was riding left Interstate 94 and tipped over near Albertville, Minn.

The Forum has made repeated attempts in recent weeks to obtain information about the cause of the crash from the Minnesota State Patrol, which is in charge of the investigation.

A State Patrol spokesman said Friday the investigation into the crash is expected to wrap up sometime next week, but no details could be released until a report is presented to the Wright County Attorney's Office.

Some crash probes can take up to six months to complete, according to Nathan Bowie, a spokesman for the State Patrol.

"That's just the nature of how it works, unfortunately," Bowie said. "When you have two fatal crashes and three injury crashes a week or so, it does build up," he said.

Nancy Huseby, a Pelican Rapids teacher, said feelings remain touchy in the community, but people generally have been understanding about the time the investigation is taking.

"I think people are being patient. I can't speak for everybody, of course," said Huseby.

The driver of the bus, Loren Ernst of Moorhead, was treated and released after the crash.

Reached outside his home Friday, Ernst declined comment.

"I got nothing to say," Ernst said.

Calls left for Jay Richards, co-owner of Richards Transportation, the Moorhead bus company Ernst was driving for at the time of the crash, were not returned Friday.

Whatever the outcome of the investigation, Rotvold said finding blame is not on people's minds as much as sadness.

"I think there's a lot of feeling for the bus driver about what he must be going through, whether he is at fault or not," said Rotvold, who added that events late in the school year kept memories of the crash fresh.

Weishair's sister, Brooke, graduated this spring during a ceremony that prompted many tears, Rotvold said.

At a band concert in May, a bouquet of flowers occupied Weishair's chair in the flute section and the performance was dedicated to her memory.

Students injured in the crash are recovering, Husbey said, though she added many in the community continue to nurse emotional wounds.

"I think for all of us, there are times when everything is fine and calm and all of a sudden this tidal wave hits you.

"I think it's still kind of raw," Huseby said. "We're still mourning the loss, and we're still healing those who were hurt."

Injured students included Hannah Klovstad, who suffered five fractured ribs and an injured spleen.

"She's getting better," said her father, Peter Klovstad, whose wife, Mary, was a chaperone on the bus their daughter was riding.

Klovstad said his son was on the second bus and wasn't injured.

He declined to say much more about his family's situation.

Out of respect for Weishair's family, Rotvold said many in town are mindful of what they say.

"The Weishairs are having a hard, hard time," he said. "This is forever for them. There is a lot of sensitivity to that."