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Heroes who saved girl from wreckage speak to media

From left, Corey Ramold, Abby Albin and Brandon Sandoz speak to the media Thursday at Mitchell Technical Institute. The three MTI students helped rescue a girl from a burning vehicle after a Wednesday head-on highway collision south of Mitchell. (Anna Jauhola/The Daily Republic)

Three Mitchell Technical Institute students who helped pull a 2-year-old girl from the wreckage of a highway crash spoke to members of the media during a news conference Thursday at MTI’s Campus Center.

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Brandon Sandoz, 19, of Valentine, Neb., his girlfriend, Abby Albin, 20, of Emery, and their friend, Corey Ramold, 18, of O’Neill, Neb., all were heading to Nebraska when they witnessed the crash, which occurred shortly before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday about five miles south of Mitchell.

According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, Sara Ann Claggett, 23, of Tripp, was southbound driving a 2006 Saturn Relay van. Her vehicle drifted into the northbound lane and collided with a northbound 2004 GMC Sierra pickup driven by Donald Julius Geidel, 82, of Dimock. Both vehicles caught fire, and both drivers died in the crash. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Claggett’s 2-year-old daughter, Lauryn Rene Claggett, was in a child safety seat in the back seat of the Saturn and survived the crash.

Sandoz, Ramold and Albin pulled over after witnessing the crash.

“All we saw was a cloud of dust and car parts flying everywhere,” Albin said Thursday.

Sandoz ran toward the Saturn and freed the 2-year-old girl from her car seat.

“I don’t remember thinking anything,” he said. “I just acted.”

Not long after Sandoz pulled the child from the wrecked vehicle, it burst into flames.

“I was probably three steps away from the vehicle when it actually went up,” he said.

The students, along with other bystanders, also managed to tow the pickup away from the burning minivan and get Geidel out. After they got Geidel out, they started doing chest compressions until paramedics arrived at the scene a short time later.

According to a relative, the 2-year-old was in stable condition at a Sioux Falls hospital as of Thursday afternoon. Sandoz, Ramold and Albin plan to drive to Sioux Falls tonight to visit the girl.

South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Matthew Petersen said, in an interview with The Daily Republic, that he has no doubt the young girl would not have survived if not for the MTI students' actions.