No charges filed in bus crash

Published 4:49 pm Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Freeborn County Attorney’s office announced Friday that no charges will be filed in the Nov. 18 bus crash near Austin that killed two people and injured 20.

Freeborn County Attorney Craig S. Nelson announced his office’s decision after reviewing information submitted by State Patrol crash investigators. That investigation is now over, and State Patrol Capt. Matt Langer said the department is saying that a “medical condition” suffered by the driver led to the crash.

The crash occurred two miles west of Austin on I-90. The bus, operated by Strain Motor Coach Company in Rochester, was returning from the Diamond Jo Casino in Iowa when it crossed the center median, two westbound lanes and went into the ditch on the north side of the freeway. The bus overturned in the ditch, coming to rest on its side.

The driver, 52-year-old Ed Erickson, of Elgin, Minn., suffered an apparent aneurysm in his chest and lost consciousness shortly before the crash. He was airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester with critical injuries.

Killed in the crash were Rhonda Hill, 52, of Plainview, Minn., and Pamela Holmquist, 56, of Kasson, Minn.

Authorities from a number of regional departments, including Austin fire and the Mower County sheriff’s office, responded to extract people stuck in the bus. Many of the passengers were older men and women who regularly take the coach to the casino.

Ardell Swenson, 71, was on the bus and thinks she dozed off while reading around the time of the accident.

Swenson, who lives in between Austin and Blooming Prairie, got on the bus in Blooming Prairie and said she was one of the first people out after the accident. She suffered minor injuries and was treated at the Austin Medical Center.

“I am so thankful because I am in so much better condition than others on the bus,” Swenson said a day after the accident.

She took the day-trip by herself, in a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision.

“I just thought to myself that I wanted to have a little fun and have a relaxing day,” she said. “I had fun, but of course it did not turn out to be relaxing … but I feel so very, very fortunate.”

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Strain Motor Coach has not had any other crashes in the past 24 months and received a “satisfactory” safety rating in May of this year.

Strain operates with four buses and six drivers, according to records.