BLUE HILL, Neb. — Two students, a school bus driver and the driver of a tractor-trailer were killed Wednesday in a collision at a rural intersection during the bus’ regular after-school route.
Truck driver Travis Witte, 21, and bus driver Marla Wentworth, 59, were killed when the bus and tractor-trailer collided. Eighteen-year-old Dustin Tesdahl and 10-year-old Caroline Thallman, both Blue Hill Community Schools students, were also killed.
Five other students were taken to area hospitals for treatment. None of those injuries was life threatening, according to the Nebraska State Patrol.
The bus was eastbound on the road when it collided with the northbound semi-truck and trailer, which was hauling hay bales. The vehicles came to rest in a ditch in the corner of the intersection, where both were engulfed in flames, according to a statement from the Nebraska State Patrol.
“Our first concern is for the families of those affected by Wednesday’s events,” Webster County Attorney Sara Bockstadter said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to everyone who has been touched by this tragedy. We ask for your consideration as our communities begin to process what has happened and work toward healing.”
The district has set up a crisis center to assist students and their families in dealing with the tragedy.
“It is believed to be best to have school in session after a tragedy like this and provide help for students,” said Joe’l Ruybalid, superintendent of schools, in a statement. “We have counselors here from the Silver Lake, Minden, Superior and Red Cloud school districts, along with many qualified community volunteers. We greatly appreciate the outpouring of offers of help from all our neighboring school districts.”
“Blue Hill Community Schools greatly appreciates your thoughts and prayers for the families involved, for the school and the community,” he added.
The district held a community prayer service Thursday and will take donations in lieu of admission at Friday’s football game. The proceeds will go to help the efforts of the emergency responders that responded to the bus crash, Ruybalid said.
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.
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