KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WCCO/AP) — Authorities are investigating the cause of a motor home crash that killed five people from a Minnesota family and sent 13 others to hospitals. They say the five killed were not wearing seat belts.
The vehicle held 18 people and was pulling a trailer when it crashed Sunday around 9 a.m. on Interstate 35 in northeast Kansas, the Kansas Highway Patrol said. It hit a guardrail and concrete bridge rail before crashing into a creek ravine near the small town of Williamsburg, which is located about 70 miles southwest of Kansas City, Mo. Debris was strewn around the crumpled Freightliner box truck, which had living quarters inside.
The survivors were sent to several surrounding hospitals. One of the hospitals, Overland Park Regional Medical Center, was treating Pauline Kerber, a 46-year-old widowed mother of 12 from Jordan, Minn., who was in critical but stable condition, and her 17-year-old son, Adam Kerber, who was in critical condition. Adam Kerber was driving the vehicle with a provisional license and was wearing a seat belt.
Only one other person who was injured in the crash was wearing proper restraints.
The five victims were all members of the Kerber family. Two adults and three children died in the crash. The Kansas Highway Patrol released their names overnight.
Twenty-five-year-old Tom Kerber and 24-year-old Melissa Kerber from New Prague died. Three younger Kerbers — 10-year-old Jessica, 12-year-old James and 14-year-old Joy — were also killed. All three children were from Jordan.
Kirk Nelson, superintendent of Jordan Public School District in Minnesota, said students had last week off for spring break, and students were scheduled to return Monday. The district planned to have several additional grief counselors and ministers on hand.
“It’s a big shock to everybody, that’s for sure,” he said. “We’ve got some good staff, and they’ll all come together,” he said. “We’ll get started on healing.”
On Monday, family friend Jeff Will — who traveled to Kansas City with his youngest son Matt to support their friends — reported a number of status updates on injured parties:
— Pauline, 46, is alert and awake, out of spleen surgery and in the intensive care unit.
— Adam, 17, is on a ventilator and stabilized.
— Nick, 8, is out of surgery related to severe head trauma. He is stabilized.
— Hannah and Timmy have been released from the hospital.
A couple of nurse practitioners from the Twin Cities came upon the crash scene, right after it happened.
Mary Mackenburg-Mohn is a nurse practitioner who lives in Woodbury. She worked in the ER at Children’s Hospital for years but says nothing could prepare her for this.
She was coming back from a conference in Texas when she and her colleague came upon the scene moments after the crash.
She was helping one of the victims, while one of the Kerber’s teenagers tried to revive his younger brother.
She said he told her, “He’s not breathing, what should I do?” Mackenburg-Mohn said, “I was able to tell him move his head, open his mouth, take his hand, is his heart beating? Start pushing his chest,” she said. “He did CPR for his brother and then he looked at me and said, ‘It’s not working.'”
Mackenburg-Mohn said the teenager tried to save his brother while he himself had a serious head injury. She said it looked like the converted semitrailer had exploded.
The crash happened in a rural area in Kansas and Mackenburg-Mohn said it took 30 minutes for paramedics to arrive.
With the help of people passing by, she said they set up a triage and with someone’s first aid kit, wrapped up wounds on the children and teens, and helped pull out those who were trapped under the debris.
“We did what we could,” she said. “We helped people who needed help, who were having a really bad day. That’s not heroic, that’s just human.”
She said they might have made a difference in helping save those who were critically hurt, but she said the real heroes were the children and teens who were helping each other.
Mackenburg-Mohn said she hopes to be able to tell Pauline Kerber how incredible and courageous her children are.
She said she couldn’t see the crash from the side of the road and almost didn’t stop. They stopped because they saw a woman looking over the side of the guard rail and thought it was strange.
She said as soon as they saw the wreckage, instinct took over.
A neighbor of Pauline Kerber’s, Mary Jo Marks, told The Associated Press that Pauline Kerber and her family live about a half-mile from the Scott County fairgrounds, which hosts motorcross races. She said the family planned to spend spring break on a big family motorcross trip.
Marks said Pauline Kerber home-schooled the children until several years ago. She said Tom Kerber was the oldest of the children and was married to Melissa. Kerber’s late husband, Glen, operated an auto store on the family property.
The hospital released a statement Sunday night on behalf of the family thanking the public for the “outpouring of love and support.”
“We appreciate the prayers of so many, and appreciate you respecting our privacy as we mourn our deep loss,” said the statement from the hospital, which also treated a critically injured 8-year-old boy before transferring him to a children’s hospital. By Sunday night, at least five of the victims had been released from other hospitals in Topeka, Olathe and Ottawa.
The crash is under investigation.
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