A 13-year-old Wisconsin girl has died after an apparent accident during a snowmobile safety training class.
Authorities in Osceola, Wis., said Sarah Thorsland of Osceola died of her injuries about 2 p.m. Sunday, after being airlifted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. She'd been riding on a snowmobile outfitted with wheels that was being used to teach new riders about handling the sleds.
Police chief Tim Lauridsen said that about 40 people were in the class at the parking lot of Osceola High School on Saturday when Thorsland got on the snowmobile and started through a familiarization course, featuring traffic cones, stop signs and other common road features.
"The snowmobile accelerated and went outside of the course," said Lauridsen. "The snowmobile ended up striking a wall that was part of the loading dock. She immediately got some medical attention. Her mother was there, she is a registered nurse, and there were several other first responders there."
Thorsland was taken to Osceola Medical Center and then on to St. Paul, where she died of her injuries.
Lauridsen said she was taking part in a class-based safety course mandated by the Wisconsin DNR for riders between 12 and 16, allowing them to operate a snowmobile independently. Thorsland had already gone through the classroom part of the course and was following a number of other riders who had already been on the hands-on familiarization in the school parking lot.
"We are looking into any reason for the rapid acceleration. At this point in time we have no reason to believe that the snowmobile had anything mechanically wrong with it. We are going off the observations of the people there, plus the fact that half the class had already used the same snowmobile for this activity."
The snowmobile is being held in a secure area while authorities investigate the matter. Lauridsen said he believes this was the first snowmobile safety class of the season, although he said the instructor had recently been re-certified by the DNR to teach new riders.
"The instructors are volunteers from the snowmobile club in the area," Lauridsen said. "The one instructor who was in charge of this class has done the same class for 31 years...These are not just people who come out and decide they're going to teach kids to ride snowmobiles. It's well regulated. They're taught how to teach basic new riders how to operate a snowmobile safely."
Lauridsen said Thorsland was a student at the Osceola Middle School and was well known in town. "She'll be missed," he said.