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Update: Hundreds Pray for Crash Victims

By: John Chapman, Brian Mastre Email
By: John Chapman, Brian Mastre Email

The Nebraska State Patrol on Thursday identified the four people killed in the fiery crash of a school bus and tractor-trailer south of Blue Hill Wednesday evening.

The truck driver, 21-year-old Travis Witte of Blue Hill, and the Blue Hill Community School District bus driver, 59-year-old Marla Wentworth of Red Cloud, died along with two students, 18-year-old Dustin Tesdahl and 10-year-old Caroline Thallman, both of Blue Hill.

Five other students were injured.

Thursday night, it was a heartbreaking service at United Methodist Church in Blue Hill as hundreds turned out to remember.

This is 10-year-old Caroline Thallman's church. Through the pastor -- her parents thanked everyone for their support. They were still at the hospital however because their 8-year-old daughter Allie was also on the bus. She's expected to recover from her injuries.

Liz Stickels babysat them both. "I miss her. I loved her like my daughter when she was at our house. My heart goes out to her family and to her sister."

Many are saying 'Thank You' to the two men who pulled the five surviving children from the burning bus.

Another man came upon the fiery scene -- and comforted high school senior Dustin Tesdahl -- who was riding the bus and soon died.

"Me and my brother knelt down and said, 'God, is there any way you can spare him because it wasn't good and he could feel the pain?"

Three of the children were taken to a Hastings hospital, where a 7-year-old boy was treated and released and a 10-year old boy and an 8-year old girl, Allie, were admitted and are in stable condition. A 7-year old girl was flown to Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha where she is in serious condition. A 6-year old girl was treated and released from a hospital in Superior.

The crash occurred just before 5 p.m. at the intersection of county road “R” and 1800 Road in Webster County. The school bus was eastbound on county road “R” when it collided with the semi hauling hay bales. The semi was northbound on 1800 Road. The vehicles came to rest in the ditch/field in the northeast corner of the intersection where both were engulfed in flames.

The Nebraska State Patrol is assisting the Webster County Sheriff’s Department and the Webster County Attorney with the accident investigation.

Investigators haven't said who was at fault. The gravel intersection is uncontrolled -- meaning there are no stop/yield signs.

“Our first concern is for the families of those affected by Wednesday’s events," said Webster County Attorney Sara Bockstadter. "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 Blue Hill Community School District set up a crisis center at the school to assist students and their families. Classes were in session on Thursday.


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