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Update 6 p.m.: Sheriff says Hancock school van apparently did not yield in crash with semi

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Hancock Public School Superintendent Loren Hacker, left, and Swift County Sheriff John Holtz speak Tuesday at a news conference. Sue Dieter / Forum News Service3 / 4
The intersection of Swift County Road 20 and County Road 63 where a semi and Hancock School van crashed. County Road 63 is a gravel road while County Road 20 is paved. The van was approaching the intersection from County Road 63, which is marked with a yield sign. Rae Yost / Forum News Service4 / 4

HANCOCK – The driver of the Hancock Public School van that collided with a semi Monday afternoon allegedly did not yield to the oncoming semi.

The crash at a rural Swift County intersection injured the van driver and all seven students in the van.

Numerous law enforcement agencies and first responders were dispatched to the scene north of Holloway and northwest of Danvers, and all eight of the injured were transported by ambulance to multiple hospitals.

Three students were listed in critical condition Tuesday morning, according to the Swift County Sheriff’s Office.

The semi driver was not hurt.

Swift County Sheriff John Holtz said at a news conference Tuesday that the semi, driven by Jeremy Beyer, 43, Danvers, was traveling east at about 50 mph on County Road 20 when the driver said it appeared the school van was going to yield but then entered the intersection from County Road 63.

The 10-passenger school van, driven by Judith Van Eps, 68, Hancock, was traveling at about 20 to 30 mph, Holtz said. The semi was unable to stop, Holtz said.

The crash was reported at 3:42 p.m. Monday, and officers were still at the scene several hours later when the sheriff gave his first news conference Monday night.

A news release issued Tuesday morning by the Sheriff’s Office said the van struck a wheel directly behind the cab of the semitractor.

The seven students were apparently not wearing seatbelts. Holtz said Tuesday that he was uncertain if it is a violation to not wear seatbelts in school vans equipped with them and was checking with the Minnesota State Patrol.

As of Tuesday morning, students Gaige Sanderson, 16, Harliegh Schlief, 16, and Savannah Schlief, 14, were in critical condition, according to a Swift County Sheriff’s Office news release. All three are from Danvers. Natasha Schlief, 12, and Blade Schlief, 10, both of Danvers, and Korah Schroeder, 10, of Holloway, were listed in stable condition Tuesday morning, the release said. It not indicate at which medical facilities they were receiving treatment.

During a news conference late Monday, Holtz said all had been transported either to Appleton Area Health Services or Swift County-Benson Hospital initially, and two or three were then airlifted by Life Link to metro hospitals.

Hancock Public School Superintendent Loren Hacker said at the news conference Tuesday afternoon that one student was being released from the hospital Tuesday, and another two were to be released soon. Hacker said three students were still in the hospital with back, neck and head injuries. A seventh student had been treated and released.

Van Eps was also expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday, Hacker said. She has been employed by the school since 2012.

“She has driven this route many times,” Hacker said.

The release of one student from the hospital and the expected release of two more was encouraging news in what Hacker described as a difficult day for the school district. “It’s an unusual day in our district. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Hacker said.

In response to the crash, the school district had staff meet prior to class so they could prepare to talk with students today, Hacker said. The school also made counselors available to the students.

“It’s a shock,” Hacker said of the crash. But the school and community can lean on each other for support, Hacker said.

“We have a really strong faith-based community here. It’s tight-knit,” Hacker said. “We have good times and bad times.” The community rejoices in the good times and shares the sadness in the bad, he said.

“I really believe this will draw us closer together,” Hacker said of the school and community.

The crash is under investigation by the Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of the Minnesota State Patrol.