November 20, 2014

“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by this tragedy” (AUDIO)

The Webster County Attorney says the investigation into a fatal school bus crash near Blue Hill will take time and the community must turn to comfort the families who have lost loved ones.

The school bus collided with a semi-tractor trailer in a rural intersection near Blue Hill late Wednesday afternoon. The collision knocked the truck into a field and sparked a fire that engulfed it and spread to the school bus, which landed in a ditch.

The wreck killed 21-year-old Travis Witte of Blue Hill, the driver of the semi, and Marla Wentworth, 59, Red Cloud, the driver of the school bus. Two students riding the bus, 18-year-old Dustin Tesdahl of Blue Hill and 10-year-old Caroline Thallman of Blue Hill, were killed in the crash as well. All four died at the scene of the accident.

Webster County Attorney Sara Bockstadter told a news conference at the Webster County Courthouse in Red Cloud that five other children were injured in the wreck.

“Our first concern and my first concern is for the families affected by Wednesday’s events,” Bockstadter said. “Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by this tragedy.”

Lisa Brandt with Mary Lanning Healthcare told Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KICS that the injured children ranged in ages from six to 10 years old. In addition to the girl airlifted to Omaha, a girl is listed in stable condition, being treated for lacerations and burns to her hands and feet; a boy is listed in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries; and another boy was treated and released last night.

In addition, a 6-year old girl was treated and released from Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior.

Webster urged patience as investigators attempt to unravel want went wrong.

“Again, this is a continuing investigation and we are working closely with the Nebraska State Patrol accident investigators and the Webster County Sheriff’s Office and this process itself will take time to conclude the investigation,” Bockstadter said. “Again, we just appreciate your patience as this process does take some time.”

The Nebraska State Patrol is assisting the Webster County Sheriff’s Office and the Webster County Attorney with the accident investigation. The Blue Hill, Hastings, Lawrence and Red Cloud Fire and Rescue Squads, and the Hastings and Superior Police Departments also assisted at the scene of the accident.

The Blue Hill Community School District has set up a crisis center at the school in Blue Hill, 606 South Sycamore Street, to assist students and their families.

Blue Hill is a small community located approximately 20 miles south of Hastings in south-central Nebraska.

Tyson Havranek, KICS, contributed to this report.

AUDIO: Webster County Attorney Sara Bockstadter holds news conference in Red Cloud. [3:40]