PRESS RELEASE: Minors involved in fatal crash identified - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

PRESS RELEASE: Minors involved in fatal crash identified


ELEVA-STRUM SCHOOL DISTRICT (PRESS RELEASE) - The Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department contacted the superintendent, Craig Semingson, Wednesday morning at about 6 a.m. to inform him of an accident involving five Eleva-Strum students. At the time of the call, not all parents had been notified by the police department.

Two students were killed in the accident, McKenna Johnson and Austin Gable, both in eighth grade.

Three other students with injuries, some severe, were Felicia Bertrang, grade 11, Marco Perez, grade 10, and Ulises Ponce, grade 8.

According to police, alcohol was not considered to be a factor. The area where the accident occurred is one where teenagers have been known to drive at excessive speeds over steep hills.

Mr. Semingson contacted all of the staff using the district's automated emergency calling system. The staff was informed that there had been an accident involving Eleva-Strum students resulting in two fatalities. 

The district's crisis team met before students and staff arrived.  Counselors from neighboring districts were contacted for their assistance. 

Mr. Semingson met with all staff and informed them of the names of the students in the accident.  Many were visibly shaken by the news. 

Mr. Kulig, the school principal, met with all middle school and high school students before classes.  Some students already knew about the accident, including those who were killed, through Facebook.  For others, this was the first they heard about the accident.  As with the staff, numerous students were shaken by the news.

Multiple areas within the school were set up as places that students could go to receive grief counseling.  Throughout the day, students met with counselors individually or in groups.  They shared their grief, remembered their friends who are gone, wrote poems, and reminisced about the times they shared.

This is also a difficult event for teachers, secretaries, aides, cooks, bus drivers, and custodians who see these students daily.  This is a grieving time for them as well.  Extra staff were available to cover the classrooms of teachers and aides who needed to step out for a while. 

Administrators from neighboring schools contacted us to offer any assistance.  There is tremendous support among the small school districts of Western Wisconsin, as we know that tragedies can happen in any of our schools.  With fewer counselors and school psychologists than a large district would have, it is common to share these services in times like this.  We are thankful to all of our neighboring districts who offered support. 

All of the students involved in the accident are well liked by the students and staff.  These untimely deaths and serious injuries have brought the student body closer together than ever before.  There is never a good time of year for such a terrible tragedy, but during Christmas it is especially difficult.  The thoughts and prayers of the entire Eleva-Strum school community are with the families of the students we lost and those who are still recovering.

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