Students returned to Sleepy Eye high schools with heavy hearts Monday.
Three days after an icy highway crash that killed four of their peers, members of St. Mary's Catholic High School, Sleepy Eye High School, and Springfield High School convened Monday to remember the young men that were lost, the Mankato Free Press reports.
At St. Mary's, where school was in session, the Free Press says students started the day with a prayer service, slides and videos for 17-year-old Payton Adams. "Kids cried and laughed and did a lot praying and it was very healthy for us," Principal Jerry Neubaueran said of the hour-and-a-half long session.
Kansas Adams was driving Friday night, and was the only one of the five occupants the State Patrol said was definitely wearing a seat belt. Their vehicle, a Grand Prix, was heading westbound on the two-lane Highway 14, just west of Sleepy Eye, and entered a curve to go southbound. The driver lost control of the vehicle at the turn and crossed into the northbound lane, where it was struck by a pickup on the passenger side.
Kansas Adams was hospitalized with serious injuries immediately following the crash, but the Free Press says he's now in fair condition at North Memorial Medical Center.
Payton Adams was described as "very likable" by the St. Mary's principal.
"He wasn't going to graduate as my valedictorian, but he made friends with everybody," Neubauer told the Free Press. "Payton just had a way with kids, fellow classmates or whoever he was with. He could talk to anyone."
Three other young men died in the crash: John Mangen, 18, and Tyler Hadley, 20, were both recent graduates of Sleepy Eye High School. And 17-year-old Caleb Quesenberry of St. Peter, a senior at Springfield High School.
Neither Sleepy Eye nor Springfield had classes scheduled for Monday. But both schools opened their doors to students – to grieve, to remember, to help cope.
Sleepy Eye students walked somberly into the Sleepy Eye High School gymnasium Monday morning, the New Ulm Journal reports, where grief counselors were available to help them work through the tragedy. KSTP says counselors will also be available Tuesday. A visitation for Mangen will be held Tuesday, starting at 3 p.m., in the gymnasium. Visitation for Hadley is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Wednesday, also in the gym.
Springfield High School provided similar services, announcing the day of the accident counselors would be available for students and family. Springfield Superintendent Keith Kottke told the Journal they would be available Monday and Tuesday. Visitation for Quesenberry was held Monday afternoon in Springfield.
Vigils were held Saturday at Sleepy Eye High School and St. Mary's Catholic Church. KEYC reported people continued to re-light the candles at the Sleepy Eye school even two days later.
The crash occurred just after 8:15 p.m. Friday west of Sleepy Eye.
The State Patrol described conditions at the time of the collision as icy. All three occupants of the pickup – Douglas P. Wiborg, 43, of New Ulm; Jakob Wiborg, 9; and Sydney Wiborg, 7, – had their seat belts on and suffered non-life threatening injuries, the State Patrol said, adding Wyborg had not been drinking.
In a press conference Saturday, State Trooper Lt. Eric Roeske said a small amount of a substance authorities believe to be marijuana was found in the Grand Prix. But Roeske said it is unknown whether that – or alcohol – may have been factors in the crash.