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Hettinger-Scranton boys team moves past bus crash

A bus accident that sent 32 Hettinger-Scranton students and staff members to the hospital has been put in the past, officials said Friday.

"The daily school life is pretty much back to normal," said John Pretzer, Scranton High School superintendent. "I think our kids are back on track. It was good for them to get back in school and back on the courts."

The Hettinger-Scranton boys basketball team was traveling to Dickinson for a Trinity High School basketball game Jan. 13. Bus driver Wayne Koltes was heading into the curve on Highway 21 west of New England when it slid into the ditch.

The bus struck a gravel road and flipped 1-1/2 times before coming to a rest according to the accident report. Students exited out of a roof vent they kicked out. Six students were taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Dickinson while the remaining passengers were taken to West River Health Services in Hettinger.

Koltes said the highway was wet, but he didn't have any concerns for ice. He said he slowed down before the curve but the bus failed to respond to the steering wheel.

The accident report stated that ice and strong wind gust may have been the cause. The advisory speed at the curve is 45 mph, law enforcement officials said.

The case has been closed, North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Will Vance said. He did not discuss if Koltes was speeding or if he is at fault, but he said the case was forwarded to the state's attorney office in Slope County where possible pending charges could be filed.

Koltes has had two traffic citations in the last four years in North Dakota -- a speeding violation and failing to yield to a right of way in an unmarked intersection, according to public court records.

The bus was totaled in the accident, but the schools have put out bids for a replacement, school officials said. Until then, the team will travel on the secondary bus.

Pretzer said things are returning back to about as normal as they can be. All but two boys, whose names were not released, returned to the floor in a game against Bowman County on Friday, and assistant coach Jeremy Dietchman is also out of the hospital.

"He's still undergoing some physical therapy," Pretzer said. "He came in to see how the kids were going ... which the kids were really happy to see him."

Counseling is being provided for the students, and staff is monitoring them for long-term anxiety. A meeting was set up with the parents to discuss replacing damaged items and insurance coverage, Pretzer said.

The familys' no-fault auto insurance, the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, workers' compensation and medical benefits should cover any expenses.

The surrounding communities have been supportive of the team, Pretzer said.

"I got word that the Bowman team wants to treat our boys to Big Train or something like that," he said. "Little things like that help the kids understand that a lot of people care for them."