ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - Four North Dakota State University students are dead after a three-vehicle accident on an icy stretch of Interstate 94 near here Monday afternoon that also involved a man from Harwood, N.D.
The Minnesota State Patrol released the victims' names this morning: Lauren Peterson, 18, of Prior Lake; Jordan Playle, 19, of Elk River; Danielle Renninger, 18, of Excelsior; and Megan Sample, 18, of Rogers.
Many NDSU students began to circulate social media tributes to the four students Monday night.
All four women are originally from the Twin Cities area, and three were suite mates at NDSU.
"It's horrible," said Cam Knutson, student body president. "I hope the campus can come together on this and try to reach out to the families."
An official at NDSU says the mood on campus is somber.
Prakash Matthew, the school's vice president for student affairs, says three of the victims shared a dormitory suite. The fourth lived in a separate hall.
Matthew said the school hasn't had such a tragedy in his 35 years there.
The cause of the crash is still unknown, but roads were slick and accidents abundant across the region Monday afternoon as snow fell and temperatures hovered near freezing.
In a news release this morning, the patrol said the crash happened as Peterson was driving a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu west on I-94 when she lost control and went through the median.
A 2008 Ford Expedition driven by Lawrence Akers, 58, of Harwood, was heading east and crashed broadside into Peterson's Malibu. A 71-year-old woman from Hopkins, Minn., Joann Bieker, then rear-ended Akers with her 2007 Toyota Corolla.
The patrol release said both Akers and Bieker sustained injuries that were not considered life-threatening.
The accident was one of at least four fatal accident in North Dakota and Minnesota on Monday. Highways across the region were hazardous as bands of snow and sleet moved through.
A second fatal crash in Minnesota occurred at about 3:32 p.m. on Highway 28 about two miles west of Glenwood. One person was killed when their car spun out on the highway and struck a semi, the patrol said.
In North Dakota, 16-year-old Ashley Meyer of Oakes was killed and five others injured when the girl lost control of her car and spun into the lane of an on-coming minivan near Valley City, the state Highway Patrol said.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol said Meyer was driving a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am from Oakes to Jamestown around 12:30 p.m. when she lost control of the car and it spun into the lane of an oncoming minivan on slush-covered state Highway 1 about five miles south of Interstate 94. The minivan struck the car in the driver-side door.
Meyer was pronounced dead at the scene. A passenger in the car, 17-year-old Danielle Brown of Oakes, was taken to Mercy Hospital in Valley City and then to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. Her condition is unknown.
The van's driver, 79-year-old Richard Olson from LaMoure, and his passengers, 79-year-old Rebecca Olson and a 55-year-old woman and a 59-year-old man from Jamestown, were taken to Mercy Hospital in Valley City to be treated for injuries.
All drivers and passengers were wearing their seat belts at the time of the accident. Roads were wet with slush and snow cover.
The crash remains under investigation.
In the Minnesota patrol district that includes Moorhead, Breckenridge and Alexandria, there were 25 accidents Monday.
Around 6:15 p.m., a second fatal accident near Alexandria occurred when two vehicles collided on Douglas County Road 82, sending three people to the hospital, the Alexandria Echo Press reported.
Earlier in the day also near Alexandria, three people were injured when a semi-trailer rolled over and two vehicles ran into debris that spilled onto the road from the overturned semi. The accident occurred around 6 a.m. near I-94 mile marker 96, one mile from where the four women died later in the day.
Icy roads were blamed for a 2008 crash in that area that killed a West Fargo man and his two children on Christmas Eve. Thomas Dunnuck, 48, his sons, Samuel, 15, Gabriel, 12, and daughter Anna Dunnuck, 8, were traveling to a family gathering in Indiana when their SUV began to slide on the icy road and collided with two other vehicles. Anna Dunnuck was injured, but survived the crash.
In North Dakota, Highway Patrol Sgt. Josh Rude said that although visibility was good, slush built up on the roadways, making them slick.
He said officers responded to numerous calls of vehicles in the ditch and about 12 accidents. Most accidents were property damage only, he said.
"This is the typical stuff we deal with in November when people are just getting reacquainted with winter driving," Rude said.