by Jim Boyle
Cody Scott Pech, a 22-year-old Lexington man, was charged Jan. 20 in Wright County District Court with three counts of criminal vehicular operation.
Pech is accused of “plowing into” three Otsego teenagers as they crossed the street from their bus stop to their school bus — with its red lights flashing and stop arm out — as it sat idling as it faced Highway 101 to the east. The complaint filed against Pech stated he failed to use even scant level of care and amounts to great negligence.
Pech had been westbound in his pickup truck on 78th Street Northeast at the time of the crash. The three 15-year-old students injured were identified by the Wright County Sheriff’s Office as Greta Jenson, Beckett Olson, and Ian Orina.
All three were taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital with serious injuries and then transferred to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where they were listed in critical condition on the day of the crash.
Olson suffered the most serious injuries and remained unconscious when the complaint against Pech was drawn up.
Authorities had a blood test administered, but no results had come back yet, according to Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly.
“I am not sure why he couldn’t see or wasn’t paying attention,” Kelly stated after being asked what might have been occupying Pech’s mind.
Each count against Pech of negligence causing great bodily harm comes with a maximum sentence of three years and a $10,000 fine.
Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty reported that at 6:51 a.m. Jan. 19 his communications center received 911 calls about a vehicle hitting several pedestrians at a school bus stop. Emergency medical personnel along with Wright County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the intersection of 78th Street Northeast and Parrish Avenue Northeast.
A Wright County detective assigned to the case that morning spoke with officers at the crash scene and learned that a Vision Transportation school bus had stopped on the eastbound lane of 78th Street Northeast just southwest of Parrish Avenue Northeast with its stop arm extended and red flashing lights activated, according to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 20 at the courthouse in Buffalo.
Several high school students were gathered at their bus stop and began crossing the westbound lane of 78th Street Northeast on their way to board the school bus. Prior to making it across the westbound lane of 78th Street Northeast, three students were struck by a Chevy Silverado pickup that had been traveling westbound, according to the complaint.
Emergency personnel at the scene of the crash rendered medical care to the three students before they were loaded onto ambulances.
The driver of the truck was identified as Pech.
The detective inspected the Chevy pickup, and he observed substantial damage on the front portion of the vehicle as well as the hood, the complaint said.
The school bus remained stopped in the eastbound lane of 78th Street Northeast just south of Parrish Avenue Northeast.
Jane Moe, the driver of the bus with more than 10 years of experience driving school bus, said it was her last stop on her route before she would have headed straight to Rogers High School. She also told the detective her preceding stop was Park Avenue Northeast and 78th Street Northeast.
After students boarded her bus there, she said she pulled over to the shoulder just after that stop to permit cars behind the bus to pass. Once they all passed, she said she turned on her left turn signal to re-enter the roadway and also activated the eight-way flashing yellow school bus lights indicating she was approaching the school bus stop at Parrish and 78th.
She then described seeing a vehicle traveling west on 78th Street Northeast just as she approached the residential leg of Parrish Avenue Northeast. It appeared to her that the presence of the bus would be apparent to oncoming traffic, the complaint stated.
Upon coming to a complete stop, Moe said she then activated the eight-way red flashing lights and extended the bus stop arm.
According to the complaint, she observed students standing at the bus stop under a street light and then watched students walking across 78th Street Northeast toward the bus. She said the vehicle traveling westbound on 78th Street Northeast “plowed” into the students when they were in the westbound lane of traffic, the complaint stated.
Moe estimated the speed of the vehicle at 30 to 40 mph when the driver crashed into the teens and that she didn’t hear any tires squealing or other indications the vehicle operator was trying to stop prior to striking the students.
The shaken bus driver said she ran to the students and saw that they were badly injured.
She told the investigator she also spoke with the driver of the pickup, who told her he didn’t see anything. She further explained the man told her he didn’t see the stop arm out on her bus and didn’t see the kids crossing the street, according to the complaint.
About 24 or 25 students were aboard the bus at the time of the crash and two additional children were present at the bus stop but were not injured.
The detective also spoke with Pech. After he was advised of his rights, he agreed to provide a statement. He admitted to driving the Chevrolet Silverado pickup that crashed into the students, the complaint said.
He also told the investigator he did not see a school bus or flashing lights on the bus as he approached the intersection.
He said he didn’t see the students until it was “too late” and then started to slam on his brakes, the complaint said. Pech said he slid into the students and struck them with the front of his truck.
The students on the bus at the time of the crash were transported to Rogers High School in a separate bus. Those students were interviewed by school resource officers. The students who witnessed the crash indicated the red flashing lights were activated and the stop arm was extended when the bus stopped at the bus stop prior to the motorist approaching it, the complaint said.
The investigator concluded Pech was driving in a grossly negligent manner, noting that he failed to see the school bus approaching with its eight-way flashing yellow lights activated, the eight-way flashing red lights and school bus stop arm. He also he neglected to see children walking from their bus stop on the corner of 78th and Parrish as they made their way toward the bus despite the presence of a street light near the bus stop.
Olson suffered a closed head injury, a severely fractured leg and internal injuries that required surgery.
Jenson suffered a ruptured spleen, requiring it to be surgically removed. She also sustained serious facial fractures, broken ribs and severe lacerations to her feet. She was also listed in critical condition at the time of the complaint being drawn up.
Orino suffered facial fractures, a broken collar bone and a bruised lung. By the weekend he was listed in satisfactory condition.
A GoFundMe page has been established to raise money for medical expenses. It was reported the parents of the teens sent a special heartfelt thank you to all the donors. More than $33,000 had been raised as of Jan. 25.