Fatal Bus Accident Reminds Us That the Impact Isn’t the Only Risk in a Crash

Bus Accident in North DakotaOn September 14, one person was killed after a school bus and a pickup truck collided at the intersection of Highway 32 and County Road 4.

Per Inforum news:

The Hatton-Northwood volleyball team was about 5 miles away from Dakota Prairie High School in Petersburg to play Nelson County when tragedy struck Thursday, Sept. 14.

Around 3:45 p.m., the school bus carrying the team was traveling northbound on Highway 32 when it collided with a pickup traveling westbound on County Road 4.

Both vehicles ended up in the slough, while the school bus landed on its side.

There were 25 students on the bus at the time, all of them between the ages of 14 and 17. The bus driver and the team’s coach sustained injuries, and Valley News Live reported that “Several students spent the night in the hospital, but the Highway Patrol says none of the students suffered life threatening injuries.” Inforum reports that all told, 15 different ambulances rushed to the scene of the crash.

The driver of the pickup, Archie Gronvold, died at the scene.

In this particular instance, the impact of the crash is likely what killed Mr. Gronvold. (More often than not, that’s the case.) But the truth is that everyone involved in this collision faced an additional danger from the slough right next to the road. Just this year, there have been multiple stories of people being seriously injured or killed in crashes that left them in sloughs:

  • In August, a 64-year-old woman from Medina died after her vehicle was submerged.
  • In July, a motorcycle rider’s body was pulled out of a slough in Griggs County.
  • Also in July, a man from Edgeley died in a wreck that left him stuck in a slough.
  • In May, a car hit a Terragator fertilizer truck and spun out into a ditch (and then a slough).

This is just a quick list, but there are a lot of new stories like this, and most of them end badly. Prairie potholes are no joke.

Why sloughs can be hazardous for drivers

Here are some of the reasons why sloughs can be dangerous for drivers:

  • They can be difficult to see. Sloughs are often surrounded by tall grass and other vegetation, which can make them difficult to see from the road. Some of the cattails can grow large enough to hide a vehicle from view, too, which means it can be hard for emergency services to find you if you end up in one.
  • They can be deep. Sloughs can be several feet deep, and even deeper after heavy rains. One of the biggest dangers of sloughs after an accident is the risk of the vehicles involved being submerged. In North Dakota, accidents on rural roads can result in vehicles hydroplaning or sliding off the road into a body of water. Passengers can become trapped inside submerged vehicles.
  • They can have hidden obstacles. Sloughs can hide various hazards beneath the water’s surface, including sharp debris, submerged branches, or other objects that could injure accident survivors attempting to escape. The murky water can make it difficult to identify these dangers, increasing the risk of injury.
  • They can be icy in the winter. The water in sloughs can be very cold, especially somewhere like here with harsh winters. Those who find themselves immersed in cold water can go into shock, increasing the risk of drowning. Accident victims can also face the threat of hypothermia after landing in a prairie pothole. Prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia, a life-threatening condition if not treated promptly.
  • They are legion. North Dakota sits at the heart of what they call the Prairie Pothole Region. It makes for good duck hunting, but it also means you have to be on your guard. There is almost always a risk, it seems, of finding yourself in a slough.

In addition to these dangers, sloughs can attract wildlife, such as deer and waterfowl. These animals can cross the road in front of vehicles, creating a risk of collisions.

What to do if your vehicle ends up in a slough

If you have a car accident in a slough, the most important thing to do is to stay calm and call for help immediately. If you’re passing by and see someone else in a slough, call for help immediately. Do not try to get out of the slough on your own, and don’t try to wade in and rescue someone else, as this can be dangerous. Emergency personnel are trained to help people in these conditions, so leave it to the experts.

Here are some specific steps you can take:

  • Turn off your engine and put on hazard lights. This will help to prevent further accidents and make it easier for rescuers to find you.
  • If you are able, try to open your door and get out of the car. (Have you bought one of those emergency hammers yet? We cannot stress enough how you should.) However, if the water is too deep or the car is too damaged, do not try to get out.

Here are some additional tips that may be helpful:

  • If you are able, try to remove any heavy clothing or accessories. This will make it easier for you to float.
  • If you are injured, try to keep the injured area above water to avoid infection.
  • If you see any wildlife in or near the slough, do not approach them. Some wildlife, especially muskrats, beaver, and bison, can be dangerous.

It is important to remember that sloughs can be dangerous, even in warm weather. That mud can suck you right in, and you’ll wear yourself out trying to get free.

What should you do if your car submerges?

If you can’t get out of the car before it submerges, AAA recommends following the S.U.R.E. method, which is:

  • Stay calm. While time is of the essence – work cautiously to ensure everyone safely exits the vehicle.
  • Unbuckle seat belts and check to see that everyone is ready to leave the car when it’s time.
  • Roll down or break a window– remember if the car is sinking in water, once the window is open the water will rush into the car at a faster rate. If the window will not open and the car has tempered glass, use an escape tool to break a side window to escape. Drivers should also remember that:
    • If a window will not open or cannot be broken because it is laminated, everyone should move to the back of the vehicle or wherever an air pocket is located. Stay with it until all of the air has left the vehicle. Once this happens, the pressure should equalize, allowing occupants to open a door and escape.
    • If the vehicle is submerged, a hammer-style escape tool (as opposed to a spring-loaded-style) could be much harder to swing underwater.
  • Exit the vehicle quickly and move everyone to safety.
  • Call 911.

If you cannot get out of the slough physically without help, try floating on your back to conserve energy and ensure your face stays above water. Get as far away from the vehicle as you can, too, so you are not sucked in if the car keeps moving downward.

If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident – slough or not – talk to an experienced Fargo accident attorney from Larson Law Firm, PC today. To schedule a free consultation, call our offices or complete our contact form. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis. We have offices in Fargo, Bismarck, and Minot.