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YEAR IN REVIEW: September: 2-year-old saved from fiery crash

A burned-up van is shown at the scene of a head-on collision Sept. 25, a few miles south of Mitchell on state Highway 37. Two people died in the crash but a young girl was rescued. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

The heroic rescue of a 2-year-old girl from burning wreckage put a silver lining on a tragic September head-on crash that claimed two lives, including the girl’s young mother.

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Minutes after a motorist reported an erratic driver on Highway 37 south of Mitchell the afternoon of Sept. 25, a white Saturn minivan crossed into the oncoming lane and collided head-on with a red pickup. Sara Claggett, 23, of Tripp, drove the minivan and caused the accident. She died at the scene, as did 82-year-old Donald Geidel, of Dimock. Claggett’s daughter, 2-year-old Lauryn Rene Claggett, survived thanks to the actions of three Mitchell Technical Institute students.

Brandon Sandoz, a 19-year-old MTI student from Valentine, Neb., Corey Ramold, 18, of O’Neill, Neb., and Abby Albin, 20, of Emery, came upon the scene moments after the crash and pulled Lauryn from the Saturn Relay. With the help of other witnesses, they pulled Geidel from his pickup before it went up in flames, but attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. Fire prevented them from getting Sara Claggett from the minivan.

Lauryn, described as “seriously injured,” was taken to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell.

Soon after the crash, Claggett’s criminal history was reported, including a guilty plea to a felony meth charge six months previous. She was on probation at the time. A toxicology report would later show she had marijuana and a prescription drug in her system on Sept. 25.

Following are summaries of other local and area news from September editions of The Daily Republic.

Sept. 3: State Fair officials kick of a $4 million fundraising campaign for a new 4-H building, saying almost $1.2 million had already been banked. A new facility would replace the 1950s era Clover Hall at the fairgrounds in Huron.

Sept. 4: Woonsocket couple Bruce and Kandy Schmiedt will re-open the town’s grocery store, it was reported, offering many of the same items as the previous owners but under a new name — Woony foods.

Sept. 5: The Mitchell School District reported a 10-year enrollment high, with 2,640 students expected to be in the district’s classrooms. That marked the fifth year in a row that the district logged an enrollment increase.

Sept. 9: Several hundred people gathered to dedicate Bella’s Butterfly Garden at Mitchell’s Northridge Park site in honor of Iszabella “Bella” Morgan, who was killed in a car crash March 24, 2012. Bella’s mom, Jeanie Morgan, said she would dedicate her life to combating drunken driving.

Sept. 10: Mitchell Technical Institute reported a record enrollment of 1,227.

The Huron school board unsealed a secret agreement with ex-superintendent Ross Opsal, which outlined that the school district continued to pay Opsal his base salary plus extra amounts for retirement and health care each month, totaling $175,000, after Opsal resigned in March 2011. The agreement was unsealed because of a lawsuit filed by The Daily Republic.

Sept. 11: Former Mitchell resident Craig Guymon was sentenced to 30 days in jail for voter fraud after voting twice in the June 4 Mitchell school board election. Guymon told a judge his actions amounted to “one of the most foolish decisions of my life.”

Sept. 12: Members of the Mitchell VFW voted unanimously to accept the city’s offer of $175,000 for the organization’s damaged downtown building.

Sept. 13: Mitchell officials reported that new exhibits at the city-owned Corn Palace helped boost visitor numbers to 240,454 between May and August, nearly 5,000 more than the previous year but off highs from 2009 and 2010.

Sept. 17: The Kimball School District announced an open house on Sept. 30 for $2.4 million in renovations completed after construction work done in 2003 resulted in structural problems and a lawsuit, which the district won.

Sept. 18: Mitchell Technical Institute opened its $18.5 million Trades Center, which was the final piece of the school’s years-long move to its new campus near Interstate 90. At the same time, the MTI Foundation kicked off a $4 million capital campaign.

Sept. 20: A fast-moving rain storm and 40 mph winds left Cabela’s in Mitchell partially flooded. A crew was in the process of re-roofing the outdoors retail store, and high winds lifted up a waterproof membrane. About 2 inches of rain fell.

Sept. 21: Mitchell hotels reported that hunters were canceling reservations after the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks annual pheasant survey showed 64 percent fewer birds than in 2012.

Sept. 23: Hundreds of movie-goers attended the final showing at Mitchell’s Starlite Drive-in theater. The theater had announced it would close rather than undergo the expense of upgrading to digital projection technology.

Sept. 25: The U.S. Department of Education named Mitchell’s Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School a National Blue Ribbon School, one of 286 schools nationwide and four in South Dakota to receive the honor.

Sept. 26: Kent Davidson, charged with murder in the death of his fiance Crystal Schulz, asks that his trial be moved from Chamberlain. Davidson’s attorney said he doesn’t believe Davidson can get a fair trial in Schulz’s hometown.

Sept. 27: Bonny Sperlich-Warnke, of Mitchell, was named winner of the Palace City Prize Pies contest organized by The Daily Republic.

Sept. 28: Amy Novak is inaugurated as president of Dakota Wesleyan University.