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YME student dies in rollover

Stina Leiseth, 16, was killed Wednesday after the vehicle she was driving rolled and landed upside down in a small stream near her home.

GRANITE FALLS -- Stina Leiseth, 16, was killed Wednesday after the vehicle she was driving rolled and landed upside down in a small stream near her home.

Leiseth, a junior at Yellow Medicine East High School, died at the Granite Falls Hospital.

YME Principal Karen Norell said Leiseth was a "good kid doing what good kids do" when she was killed Wednesday in the single-car accident that happened just a quarter mile from her parents' rural Granite Falls home.

Personable, academic and someone who came to school "happy, upbeat and ready to go," is how Norell describes the 16-year-old junior. Her death will leave "an unbelievable void" in the tight-knit school and community, Norell said.

Leiseth, a star volleyball player who was also on the track and basketball teams, had the day off from school Wednesday for Thanksgiving break, while teachers were having in-service training.

But the basketball team was scheduled to practice at 2 p.m. and then have photos taken, said Norell.

When Leiseth didn't show up by 2:45 p.m. her teammates got worried. It wasn't like Leiseth to be late, said Norell in a telephone interview Thursday evening.

Stina's mother, Becky Leiseth -- a first-grade teacher at YME -- was contacted and went looking for her daughter, along with another YME staff member.

Leiseth's vehicle was found at 3 p.m., upside down in a small stream the intersection of 90th Street Southeast and 20th Avenue Southeast, about six miles north of Granite Falls.

It's a short distance away from where Becky and Rich Leiseth live with their family.

In a news release that did not name the victim of the accident, the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department said the vehicle had broken through the ice on the stream and that the driver, who was only occupant, was still in the vehicle when rescue personnel arrived.

Leiseth was taken to the Granite Falls Hospital.

Word spread quickly about the tragedy and Leiseth's teammates, classmates and school personnel hurried to the hospital where they "waited in vigil," Norell said. "The results were traumatic and terrible."

Students gathered Wednesday night at the Rock Haven Church to comfort each other, said Norell. School and community professionals will be available today at the Kilowatt Community Center in Granite Falls. They'll also be ready to counsel students next week when school resumes.

"We do have a crisis plan and we'll follow that as much as we can," Norell said. "Our staff will be there. We'll hold our kids together."

This is the fourth year in a row that a YME class has tragically lost a student. The grief of those losses is "too much for anyone," she said.

Not only has the class of 2010 lost a student, but the class of 2009 -- which includes Leiseth's only sibling, Anton, is also feeling this new pain. Having a YME teacher lose a child is another layer of grief for the district, said Norell.

"It affects so many people. Everyone is connected. It's overwhelming," she said.

Norell said she can't imagine what Monday will be like when students walk through the school doors and Leiseth isn't walking in with them.

Funeral arrangements for Leiseth are pending with Wing-Bain Funeral Home.

The accident is under investigation.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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