Ryan McCracken photo
Rescue workers respond to a scene where a vehicle crashed into a Racette School classroom on Thursday morning.
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Vehicle crashes into Racette classroom
Three critically injured
Oct 25, 2012 01:15 pm |
Three people were critically injured after a white minivan crashed into a Racette School classroom, shortly after 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, in an accident that rocked the community to its core.
"You can't imagine," Supt. Glen Brodziak said, when asked about his reaction as a parent when he heard the news. Parents have a "level of expectation" when they send their kids to school, he noted, and when something happens to rattle those expectations, it is troubling.
"Obviously, we're shaken," he told media gathered at St. Paul Education Regional Division central office for a debriefing on the afternoon of the accident.
SUSPECT - A suspect is escorted from the scene by police.
RYAN MCCRACKEN PHOTO
It appears as though the van was traveling westbound on a back alley, when the driver went through the schoolyard's fence and crashed into the east side of the school and landed entirely in the Grade 6 classroom. Police, fire and emergency services responded to the scene, and rescue workers worked to lift the vehicle to extricate three students trapped underneath. The three students were airlifted to hospital in Edmonton for treatment; one is currently in stable condition, while the other two remain critically injured. Five students with non-critical injuries were treated at the local hospital and released on the same day.
When asked at the media debriefing if things could have been worse, Chief Supt. Randy McGinnis of the Eastern Alberta Detachment answered, "Undoubtedly.
"You have a 2,000 pound vehicle coming in at a high rate of speed to crash through the bricks and the structure," he said. "When I first heard of the incident, I was obviously predicting the worst."
He said that police are working to "rule in or rule out" possible causes for the accident, including impairment either through drugs or alcohol and potential mental conditions. Richard Benson, a 46-year-old man was taken into police custody from the scene, with McGinnis saying he believed the man was from St. Paul. He said that there is no truth to rumors there was a high speed chase before the accident. Benson is facing four charges, three charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, one count of possession of marijuana and one count of resisting arrest.
Taylor Balmer was in her Grade 8 classroom upstairs when she and her fellow students felt the building shake. "It was scary. For a few minutes, nobody knew what was going on," she said. Repairs were taking place to the roof, so her initial thought was that there was an accident at the top of the school. But when she and her fellow students looked out the window, they could see the tire tracks leading into the building and smoke, which made them realize an accident of a different kind had taken place.
She recalled hearing people screaming and crying, as the school went into lockdown. "Everybody's pretty shook up," she said.
Chaos quickly erupted in the schoolyard as parents arrived in search of their children to find the Grade 6 classroom torn apart from the inside with broken wood and glass.
Parents and school staff worked frantically to account for students and evacuate them from the building while emergency responders actively worked to transport those injured to hospital.
Racette School will be closed on Friday, but there is a contingency plan in place to move all 250 students to Regional High School, said Brodziak. He noted counseling will be available to anyone affected by the accident or its aftermath.
Several of those present at the debriefing thanked staff and first responders for their handling of the situation, with McGinnis noting that without the level-headed response of Racette School staff, the situation could have been much worse.
"The outreach from our community has been phenomenal and we ask everyone to please keep these children and their families in your hearts tonight," said board of trustees chair Maureen Miller.