December 22, 2014

Investigation pins blame of Blue Hill fatal crash on both drivers

An investigation into the crash of a school bus and a semi near Blue Hill has determined that both drivers shared some level of blame in the fatal collision.

The wreck late in the afternoon on September 5th killed four; both drivers and two students aboard the bus. Five other children were injured in the wreck.

The Nebraska State Patrol reports that it conducted a thorough investigation and accident reconstruction of the fatal collision at County Road “R” and 1800 Road, south of Blue Hill. The Webster County Sheriff’s office assisted in the investigation. The patrol says the investigation determined that each driver “appears to have shared some level of responsibility in the outcome of the crash.”

“The investigation indicated that both vehicles entered the intersection at approximately the same time,” said Sara Bockstadter, Webster County Attorney, in a written statement released by the Patrol. “The investigation revealed that both drivers had an unobstructed view of the roadway and the opportunity to see each other.”

The bus and the semi tractor-trailer hauling hay collided in the intersection and both caught fire. The fire actually destroyed equipment that would have recorded data helpful in the investigation. The truck driver didn’t have the correct driver’s license for the vehicle. The bus driver failed to yield the right of way to the semi on her right. Drugs and alcohol played no role in the wreck, according to the patrol.

21-year-old Travis Witte of Blue Hill, the driver of the semi, Marla Wentworth, 59, Red Cloud, the driver of the school bus, and 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.

“This has been an extremely difficult time for all of us. While we continue to grieve the loss of our family members and friends, we would like to thank everyone who has reached out to our community to provide comfort and support,” Bockstadter said in a written statement.

The accident could have been even worse. It was learned later that Ron Meyer and Phil Petr arrived on the scene moments after the crash, ran onto the burning bus, and pulled five children to safety.

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