WOONSOCKET — The Woonsocket School District is mourning the deaths of three students and the hospitalization of a fourth following a fatal crash Saturday three miles east of the community.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety said two 14-year-old males and a 15-year-old male died in the three-vehicle crash that occurred at 7:52 p.m. three miles east of Woonsocket where Highway 37-34 turns north toward Huron. A 14-year-old male also sustained serious, non-life-threatening injuries.
Officials said the 2000 Oldsmobile Alero the four teens were in was eastbound on South Dakota Highway 34 preparing to turn north onto Highway 37. The vehicle collided with a 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer that was westbound on Highway 34. The Alero spun around and collided with a 2011 Chevrolet Impala that was at the stop sign on Highway 37.
The three teens were pronounced dead at the scene. While the department of public safety has not released the names of those involved in the crash, the Basham Funeral Service website lists funeral services pending for Kristian A. Kesary, 14; Dylan T. Klich, 14; and Jordan T. Klich, 15.
Students and faculty were at Woonsocket Public School on Monday morning, but it was far from an ordinary school day, said Rod Weber, superintendent of the Woonsocket School District.
“Obviously, it’s a very tough situation when four students are involved in a car accident and to have three pass away. It affects not only the students, but the whole community,” Weber said.
The district scheduled an open house Sunday for students, faculty and community members in which they could meet with counselors, clergy and each other as they cope with the loss of the three schoolmates. Weber said about 300 people were in attendance.
“The district lined up an open house with counselors and about a half-dozen clergy, and I really do think that was a starting point in the grieving and healing process,” Weber said. “We’re leaning on each other, and thinking about the families that are involved.”
Weber said staff and faculty at the school have held meetings on how to approach the school day and the upcoming weeks as people process the loss of the three students. He said there were about a dozen counselors and several clergy members on campus Monday morning to speak with those who wished to talk about the deaths.
Weber said the entire Woonsocket community and surrounding towns and school districts have been quick to offer any assistance they can, including sending their own school counselors to help or simply contacting them to know that they are willing to help in any way they can should they need it.
Weber said the first concern is for district students, but they are offering services for any faculty or staff members at the school as well, should they need it. School employees offer much support for the students in times like this, and those staff members should feel free to reach out for guidance if they feel the need to do so, he said.
The grieving process can be difficult, he said, and neither students nor district employees should feel they have to face it by themselves.
“One thing to remember is that we concentrate on the kids so much, but we do have counseling services set up for staff. We’ll have that set up after school, as well,” Weber said. “The most important thing is making sure they know they don’t have to go through this process alone, and I believe that we’ve provided that for them. It’s just going to be a long process, but I feel confident we will get through this.”
Weber said school activities are expected to proceed as scheduled for the rest of the week. And though athletic events and other activities will help bring a sense of normalcy to the school, there will be a huge hole in the heart of the district for a long time to come, he said. Weber noted two of the students killed were brothers.
“These three will be missed by everybody. In a small community, everybody knows everybody. That’s why it’s not affecting just students but the whole town,” Weber said. “As their superintendent and principal, you have relationships with all your students, so it’s certainly particularly hard for me as well. We certainly can’t imagine what the families are going through right now.”
He also said the school will be ready to embrace the surviving student with open arms and give him whatever support it can when he is hopefully able to rejoin them.
“He will hopefully be released from the hospital and it will be a tough battle for him. It’s going to be a tough road, and we’re not going to forget about him,” Weber said.
Weber said the course of action now is to continue to support the students, faculty, community and families of those who died as best the district can as they move forward with the school year.
“Slowly, we will heal from this. It’s going to be a process, but we will heal,” Weber said.
The 46-year-old female driver of the Trailblazer was also taken to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell with serious non-life-threatening injuries. The two occupants of the third vehicle were uninjured.
The crash is under investigation by South Dakota Highway Patrol.