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Dickinson students drowned in stock pond, medical examiner rules

Press Photo by Ashley Martin Flowers and plants sent to Dickinson State University in honor of three students who drowned this week line a hallway in the campus athletic department, where Pete Leno, left, who is the director of the Ben C. Frank Human Performance Center, talks with Kelsey Boedeker, a DSU student and athlete on Friday.

The mysterious disappearance of three Dickinson State University softball players, later to be found dead in a stock pond northwest of Dickinson, has been ruled death by drowning.

Authorities said preliminary autopsy results indicate cause of death and also released more details surrounding the accident Friday, but full autopsy results will not be available for about a week, Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said Friday afternoon.

Kyrstin Gemar, 22, Ashley Neufeld, 21, and Afton Williamson, 20, were last heard from late Sunday evening. At about 11:18 p.m., two friends of the women received phone calls placed about a minute apart, said Lt. Rod Banyai of the Dickinson Police Department.

The calls were filled with frantic noises, a mention of water and pleas for help.

The phone calls were used to narrow down a search area, Tuhy said. Crews pulled Gemar's vehicle out of the pond Tuesday afternoon. Two women were located toward the hatchback cargo area of the 1997 Jeep Cherokee, Tuhy said. The other woman was found partially in the front and partially in the center of the vehicle. Investigators are still looking into whether they were trying to escape.

Tuhy said with the amount of water the Jeep took on, it is difficult to pinpoint where in the vehicle the women died.

"We did do an examination of the vehicle after the crash and after it was recovered, and we're still working on formulating all those things that we saw into a report," said Capt. Eric Peterson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The pond is roughly one-eighth to one-quarter of a mile from a public dirt road, Peterson said. The women were on private property.

"There was a fence line there with a gate ... I don't know what the condition of the gate was," Peterson said. "We found tracks that matched the vehicle in question in quite a few areas in that field."

The rate of speed the women were traveling is being determined and authorities cannot comment at this time, Peterson said, adding he also cannot comment if brake marks were left.

Dickinson Rural Dive Rescue member and Dickinson Rural Fire Department Chief Curt Lefor said the vehicle came to a stop in about the middle of the pond, which Tuhy estimates to be about 100 feet by 60 feet.

The vehicle was extracted from the pond on the north shore.

No airbags deployed and it is unclear if the women were wearing seatbelts, Peterson said.

Indications as to whether or not the women tried to break windows in the vehicle cannot be commented on at this time, Peterson said.

Lefor said the pond water was between 36 to 40 degrees.

A call to the state medical examiner's office went unreturned.