Updated: 4 p.m. | Posted: 5:24 a.m.
Seven students and the driver of their school van were hurt in a crash Monday afternoon in west-central Minnesota. Three of the children are in critical condition, fighting for their lives.
The van was taking the kids home from school in Hancock, Minn., when it approached an intersection in the rural town of Danvers, Minn., just west of Benson, Minn., where a gravel road meets Swift County Road 20.
There was a yield sign there, and authorities say the van's driver, 68-year-old Judith Van Eps, rolled through it and ran into the tandem wheels of a semitrailer passing in front of her, Swift County Sheriff John Holtz said Tuesday.
Friends of the family on Facebook said the crash involved the three girls and a boy from the Schlief family in Danvers.
Two sisters, 16-year-old Harleigh and 14-year-old Savannah, were initially listed in critical condition; 12-year-old Natasha and 10-year-old Blade were listed in stable condition.
Holtz said two of the other students, Gaige and Braydon Sanderson, were brothers, and Gaige was initially listed in critical condition.
The three students who were the most badly hurt were brought to hospitals in the Twin Cities, he added. Another girl, 10-year-old Korah Schroeder, was also hospitalized.
Two of the students and the driver of the van may be released as soon as Tuesday. The semi driver, 43-year-old Jeremy Beyer, was not seriously hurt.
The cause of the crash is being investigated, although Holtz said there was no indication of alcohol or other impairment by either driver, and no indication that either was distracted by a phone or anything else. The weather and terrain also do not seem to have been a factor.
The sheriff said the crash was a violent one.
A friend of the Schlief family said on Facebook that at least two of the kids were ejected from the van by the crash, so seat belts might have made a difference.
The van was the children's regular transportation from school. Most of the kids from Hancock Public School take buses, the superintendent said, but some of these kids were taking advantage of open enrollment and coming from the edges of the district boundaries and they ride in a van.
It was a regular 10-passenger van like you see at a hotel or an airport shuttle. It did have seat belts, and the driver was belted when the crash happened.
However, none of the kids in the van had buckled up for their ride home. While Minnesota law doesn't require seat belts in regular school buses, the Minnesota State Patrol said the van was classified as a type 3 vehicle, where seat belts are required.