5 Minnesotans Killed In Kansas Crash Didn’t Wear Seatbelts

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • Sgt

    Sad, Prays to the family

  • eathelbard

    Wow – widowed family of 12, now this.

  • Liquid Nails

    Just a bummer.

  • eddy

    seatbelts in a rif like that?

  • eddy

    correction, in a “RIG” like that.

    I can see in the drivers and passenger seats. Where in RVs do they have seat belts other than in the front seats?

    God bless their family.

  • djp

    And YOU are a journalist where???

    • aw18

      if you think this article is bad go to kare 11 this one is an A+ compared to theirs.

      • aw18

        this is the most amazing and loving family and this tragedy leaves you speechless.

        • jackactionhero

          Indeed it does. I cannot imagine the unspeakable horrors the survivors have endured. I have to wonder why the 17 year old boy was the one driving 18 people in an RV towing a trailer large enough for living quarters. I’m not passing judgment, just suggesting it may have been a contributing factor. Again, no judgment passed. I am sure this young man is only beginning his journey to recovering from this event.

          • Jerry

            The trailer apparentlly was for their bikes. It is also possible some problem with the trailer caused him to lose control. I know of professional drivers who have been thrown in the ditch because of a problem with a trailer. I hope the cause of this accident will not be the fault of the driver. What a load to bear for the rest of his life.

    • Doesn't know Jack

      Seriously Jackchit? Do you consider a blog modestly popular if you’re the only one reading it? Wow, “several things in print”, now we all must respect your thoughts on a public opinion blog. Could you for once attempt to spare us the personal life self-praises as it always seems to come back to that.

  • pray for families!

    seems like an awfully big set up for a 17yr old to be driving. It looked like a very long RV with a trailer too. Probably not the best driver for the job.
    Bless the family for healing.

  • Jerry

    The seatbelt information is part of the story, and I think it is important to mention the life saving benefit of using seatbelts. Actually I’m suprised anyone survived, seatbelts or not.

    • Jay

      Jerry, did you see what was left of this thing?? Do you really think seatbelts would have kept them alive! My gosh, it looks like a flat bed trailer, with EVERYTHING strewen all over the landscape. Its a miracle more werent killed., and more surprising there were survivors.

      • Jerry

        I did not say seatbelts could have saved them. I said I see no problem mentioning that the survivors wore seat belts because seatbelts do save lives.

  • red

    stupid comments- Bless this family perhaps the 17 year old with a provisional license should not have been driving . he probably has a load of guilt on his mind

    • Verna

      Perhaps he shouldn’t have been driving? He shouldn’t have been driving, not enough experience for that much responsibiltiy .. an oversized vehicle and all of those lives in his hands. It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy but, he NEVER should have been driving.

      • aw18

        wether your 17 or 40 who says that even an experienced driver could have handeled this any better?.. Adam is a very responsible person and if his family didn’t have trust in him they wouldn’t have let him, but this was an accident.

      • mj

        Thats exactly right Verna!!! I feel very sad and sorrowful for this family…but the obvious must be talked about….so people learn from this tragedy and it isn’t repeated. As great a driver perhaps this 17 yr old was he still should NOT have been driving!!! a huge semi- made into a recreational veh. w/trailer is way too much responsibility for a teenager. Much experience is needed. Maybe he had the lic. but the judgement call should not have been this 17 yr old. I don’t fault the kid, as much as adults who allowed this.

    • s60c

      Mom had him drive. Mom’s fault. not his.

  • glenna

    so sorry for your losses a tuff time for one and all of you may god stayby you hope you all stand by one another and please help your mother out in this very dificult time, also my thought are with all who have been haveing to go through this hope nothing but the best for all that are still with you

  • BLP

    How rude!!!

  • TWeber

    @BOB… What a dumb comment. You obviously don’t know this family. My prayers to all the families.

  • MAJ

    What is the legal age for driving a semi-truck like this? It was on an interstate if that matters. This is such a tragedy that happened to this wonderful family.

    • NW

      It APPEARS the legal age may be 21 across state lines. Guess it depends if this is called a semi or an RV.

    • Jay

      THIS vehicle was not classified as a semi- truck., It was a recreational vehicle which has no age lrequirements other than having a DL, nor, is it mandatory to have special training to drive, unlike semi’s. This accident is Very traggic for all involved. Thoughts and prayers for complete recovery for all . Sympathy to the families for the loved ones lost.

  • Sara

    Thoughts and prayers go out to this family, what a terrible tragedy. Stick together and try to heal from this as a family.

  • hunnybear18

    Wow, sensationlize much? I’ll bet that even though they were on a motorcross trip they weren’t wearing helmets either. Suprised you didn’t add that too.

  • Jenny

    so many things were wrong here. Yes, RV’s do have seatbelts in them. They have been in them for 10 years or more.

    Were there people in the trailer being pulled?

    This family has alot of healing to do. physically and emotionally. prayers to them all.

    • jackactionhero

      Oh really? And how many people can be strapped into the front 2 seats? All 18 of them? Use your head.

      • deltadawn

        Thats a fact jack! The seatbelt thing is the moron writer who has never been in one.

      • Former MH Owner

        I had a 92 motorhome, and it had seatbelts in all of the dinette seats and couch. So they had them then, and I can only assume the manufacturers are under even more stringent standards to have them in all seating areas of an RV now. But I know most folks riding in the back usually wouldn’t where them, because it’s one of those “nice’ features to be able to walk around and ride in comfort. Not anymore for this family. A real tragedy.

        • Greg Looseanus

          I like riding in the back.

        • Heidi

          Public radio had an expose on this yesterday–and stated that it was pretty much custom made at home, in which case it is harder to enforce by state patrol.

  • cez

    This family needs support not criticism and judgement. Say a prayer not a bad word. Would do alot better.

  • Bert

    So terrible and my heart goes out to the family but I have to ask, why was a 17 yo driving a big rig like that? Provisional farm kid license or not he had no experience driving a big rig like that. This was not your run of the mill Winnebago it was a very heavy rig.

    • hunnybera18

      Where does it indicate that it was a “provisional farm kid license” and not the regular provisional license all kids get until they are 18?

      • aw18

        Bert– how do you know he didn’t have no experience driving it? Please prove that.

  • http://www.hirisc.net hirisc

    Unfortunate speculation re the 17 year old’s driving ability. He was an accomplished motocross rider – stands to reason he had good reflexes, motor capacity. The vehicle was ‘recreational’ and he was legally allowed to drive it. Enough already.. Re the seat belt thing, sensationalistic reporting and comments from those who have never been in a motor home for more than a tour at the RV show. RIP to those who have gone ahead. Thoughts for healing to the family.

    • newcraft

      Driving a cycle and operating a rig are two completely different sets of skills. I know this isn’t the time to pass judgment – but it really scares me that people think the media’s being sensationalistic, when it’s looking more and more to be a bad judgment call to allow a 17 yr old to operate such a rig cross-country when you’re battling winds like we’ve had in the midwest the past week.

      Where does the responsibility lie? There’s a reason 17-yr-olds don’t operate commercial long-haul trucks. There’s a reason a license is provisional until age 18. At some point, people need to start being real and asking the tough questions, as hard as that might be. It was early in the morning, the rig (perhaps due to wind gusts) hit the guard rail and sounds like he over-corrected. The same reflexes and instinct that someone uses to ride motocross do NOT apply to the operation and trouble-shooting of a huge rig like that with 17 passengers on board.

      • Nice try

        wow .. someone else that can speak truth … I’m sure they’ll have this comment removed too.

      • gandydancer

        newcraft, my thinking exactly. open and flat roads ahead. what can go wrong…well it did to a family that did not deserve these horrific consequences. god bless.

  • DontCareWhatYouSay

    Absolutely insane. whoever let this kid drive this should be charged with endangement as well. Just because they modified a semi and called it “recreational” does not mean a 17 year old kid should be allowed to drive it. The laws should be changed to prohibit ANYONE from driving these things without a class A license. Just because you call it “recreational” instead of “commercial” makes no difference in the skills needed to drive it, or the amount of damage it can do to everyone around it.

    What would have happened if he flipped it on the highway and brought even MORE people harm? Hate on this comment all you want – what if it was YOUR family driving next to this irresponsible family?!

    • chester

      maybe you need to checkout the laws and NO we shouldn’t be testing everyone who is going to drive RV’s and everyone who is placing the blame on his mother STOP !! IT’S A TRAGITY NOTHING MORE !! besides who’s to say a 50 or 60 year old with lots of years driving wouldn’t have crashed

    • Molly

      Well said!!!

      • charlie

        I am sorry for this family but I agree.

    • s60c

      I agree. Too many adults don’t act like adults. I hope other parents will make better choices because of this.Other wise these poor people have died for nothing. He had a provisional license and not much experience. I thought also if something was “homemade”it had to go through an inspection to get licensed. and would have to meet guidelines. Some people think rules are for idiots and make their own. And this is what happens.

  • JKB

    Ya know how many times have we given thought to the possibility of our getting involved in an accident when we have a car full of people, or allow our unlicensed teen driver to practice? We dont have any idea as to how many times “Adam” was allowed to drive this rig, but, we can surmise that Mom felt comfortable allowing him behind the wheel. We could “assume” the other family members felt the same, or theyd never have allowed it. The worse part of this tragedy , besides the loss of lives,is the immense guilt this Mother and son are going through. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families. This is heartbreaking. Their whole life has changed in an instant.

  • lovefromabove

    Right now the best we can do is send our thoughts, prayers and support. Ridicule is not necessary nor will it change the past. Given that none of us commenters were present, who are we to judge the situation? The most important fact is that five lives were lost, and that this family was no ordinary family, they were the kindest people around. Show some respect, please.

    • lu lu

      Yes, but it may serve to re-‘mind’ people when givin the opportunity to make a similar decisiom. I think presenting ‘judgement’ here may serve to support parents in making their arguments with their own children when the time comes.

      Bless all of you sufferring with the loss of this Dear Family.

  • Atention WCCO

    Out of respect for the family and friends, most of the comments on this article should be removed.
    In any accident, no matter how big of small, hindsight is always 20/20. Most accidents could be prevented if we could forsee the future. To state and debate what some people feel are the obvious errors in this accident will not change this situation, but they will intensify the pain that this family is already going through.

    • newcraft

      So the responsible thing to do is to not ask questions? Not let others learn from what could have possibly prevented this? All due respect, yes, the family has suffered an unspeakable loss, but at the same time, it’s naive and dangerous to NOT ask why this happened!

      • Atention WCCO

        It is fine to ask yourself questions if you need to, but the errors in judgement are so blatently obvious that they really do not need to be spoken. As I said, hindsight is 20/20. We’ve all done some not so smart things. Sometimes you get caught, sometimes luck is with you. I would belive that this family is wishing with all their heart that they had made other choices, but it is a little late now. Maybe someone should do a poll on the percentage of RVers who WISHED they had been buckled on their last trip. I’m betting the only ones who wished they had been buckled are the ones who were actually hurt in an accident….which in the case of RVers would be a very small number.

    • s60c

      They may prevent another though! Pretending things were really handled OK and not using this as a learning tool is worse than any hurt feelings. i feel very sorry for them. And I do hope they pull out of this as well as could be expected.

  • molly dvorak

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kerber family for physical and emotional healing. Every bit of speculation of why and how it happened should be left out. Just because we have the right to express our personal opinions, doesn’t mean we should.

  • missy

    Maybe he swerved to avoid a deer. You never know what happened, but there are lots of tragedies that hapen with grown adult drivers. I hope this family has a very good support system. They’re going to need it. I will say a prayer for all involved, just can’t imagine the pain this family is experiencing.

    • Nice try

      And that would prove inexperience. You can’t just swerve that kind of vehicle and expect to keep control of it. With the weight difference, the deer wouldn’t stand a chance, and would not do much damage to the vehicle. It certainly wouldn’t have cost any human lives.

    • jackactionhero

      Who swerves to avoid a deer? I want your license to drive pulled if you do.

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