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Six injured when mock accident turns real in Detroit Lakes

In a real-life situation, Detroit Lakes firefighters and emergency personnel pull crash victims out of the vehicle struck by the runaway fire truck. The injured included high school actors helping in what was supposed to be a mock crash. Brian Basham / Forum Communications

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - Detroit Lakes High School students -- who had gathered to watch a pre-prom auto accident drill Friday morning -- were shocked to see an unmanned fire truck slowly accelerate down the street and plow into two cars that were staged for the mock crash, injuring several people.

Authorities said nobody appeared to be injured very seriously (although several were taken to the emergency room at Essentia Health-St. Mary's to be checked out) and mechanics are examining the truck to see why it malfunctioned.

The crash occurred at a low speed, perhaps 5 mph or less, but the weight of the fire truck caused the chain-reaction accident, said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Tim Eggebraaten.

The mock crash started out as planned, with student actors portraying the aftermath of a drinking and driving accident on Madison Avenue near the high school, which is a fairly level street.

There were two cars involved in the mock accident -- the first with a family of three and the second with five young people in it.

Emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene, and soon after, it turned into a real accident.

A Detroit Lakes Fire Department truck (Engine No. 3) was parked idling on the street about 30 feet away from the staged two-car accident, as firefighters removed mock crash actors from a vehicle.

Suddenly, the fire truck started moving forward, gaining momentum, and finally plowing into the rear of one of the mock crash vehicles, which then hit the second car.

Among the injured were some inside the cars, a trooper who had been between the two cars (but escaped with a banged up knee) and an EMS worker and student actor staging medical care in front of the second car.

The fire truck's momentum was largely stopped by hitting the first car, but a firefighter quickly jumped into the truck and turned it off.

According to Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Dave Baer, the emergency brake was on and the truck was in neutral, as it should have been. There was no reason for it to have accelerated, he said.

"I've got the state coming to look at (the truck) and Swanson's Repair," Baer said. "Engine 3 isn't very old at all."

Eggebraaten, who was filming the mock crash on his iPad, said six people were injured.

They include two of the student actors, a young boy and his mother, a state trooper, and an EMS worker.

All were participating in the mock crash.

"None of the injuries appear to be critical," Eggebraaten said.

One person was injured in the first car, which was hit by the fire truck: Jon Patrick Stone, 9, was acting in the mock drill along with his parents, who were also in the car. His mother, Joyce Stone, was also checked at the emergency room. His father was not injured, Eggebraaten said.

A state trooper, Sgt. Rodney Eischens, 44, was working on the first car and injured his knee when he jumped up and out of the way as the fire truck came in.

"He was between the cars, but he didn't get pinched," said Detroit Lakes Police Sgt. Robert Strand.

There were five high school-aged girls in the second car, and one was injured: Keandra Schumacher, 18.

An EMS worker and student actor working outside the second car were also injured. They are Olivia Johnson, 18, and Debra Lynn Larson, 55.

"It was unfortunate," Eggebraaten said. "We're just thankful that nobody was seriously hurt."

The entire student body of DLHS was gathered for the mock crash and witnessed the real accident.

According to DLHS principal Steve Morben, assistant principal Eric Martinez made the call to end the drill and get the students back into school.

"We made an announcement about the intentions of the day and for students to remember what the message was intended to be," Morben said.

Students were also informed that there were several injuries, but they were not serious and the victims were being treated.

Morben said people were available if any students needed counseling.

The high school also sent out an instant alert phone and e-mail message to parents about the accident later Friday morning.

According to the instant alert message, the purpose of the mock crash was to remind students of the importance of making good decisions during the prom season.

"Unfortunately, a mishap occurred at 9:35 a.m. during the mock crash involving a fire truck malfunction that resulted in the truck impacting the vehicles that were being used during the scenario," the message read.

"There were Detroit Lakes High School students and other community members in the vehicles at the time of impact as well as emergency personnel that were responding as part of the mock crash scenario.

"As a result of the impact, some students and emergency personnel were injured, but none of the injuries, we are told, are of a serious or significant nature and that most who were responded to were being brought to the hospital for precautionary measures."