By Ryan Gueningsman
MONTROSE, MN The wrong place at the wrong time.
Seven-year-old Hayden B. Solien lost his life Friday morning when a westbound 2001 Ford Taurus LX being driven by Robert M. Mercier, 47, of Arlington, ran through a red light on Highway 12 at Highway 25. The vehicle drifted across eastbound traffic, and struck Solien as he was waiting for the school bus.
Mercier also lost his life. Both were dead upon arrival of authorities.
Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol conducted a media briefing at the Montrose Community Center Friday just after noon.
“There’s no other way to say it this is an unspeakable tragedy,” Roeske said. “When you look at a scene like this, there’s a hundred ways it could have been different.
“For the child to be there and for the vehicle to happen to come through there and strike the child moments before being picked up . . . it just leaves your heart empty and saddened that something like this happens. There’s so many variables that any one of them could have changed what happened.”
Roeske said all the factors surrounding the crash remain under investigation, and that the Minnesota State Patrol’s reconstruction unit was on scene.
“There are still a number of things that need to be determined,” he said, including the reason the driver ran the red light and drifted across the highway. He would not speculate if the driver suffered a medical condition, and said it won’t be determined until a report is available from the medical examiner. Mercier was wearing a seatbelt.
Larry Miller, long-time owner of Red’s Cafe at the corner of Highway 12 and Highway 25 in Montrose, said it was an average morning for his business, but then, things quickly changed.
“My waitress saw it take place and called 911 and things evolved from there,” Miller said.
Miller had been a firefighter for 29 years, and said the fire department is an excellent group that takes care of the community.
“They were there right away,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do.”
Authorities attempted extrication of the driver, but it was too late, Roeske said.
A number of people who were at Red’s Cafe provided statements to the authorities on what they observed.
“It’s unsettling in a smaller community,” Miller said. “You don’t expect things to happen like that, but it’s the way things happen. I feel for the family.”
Miller said the child was at his grandmother’s house, and said he had seen the youth before on the sidewalk waiting for the bus.
“Life goes on, but sometimes you get a little kick in the teeth,” Miller said. “My wife and I have been here 37 years and we’ve seen a lot . . . wrong place at the wrong time.”
Roeske said there was no one else on the sidewalk at the time of the incident, and said the youth was standing by a “no parking” sign.
He said the state patrol has not made a determination of the driver’s speed at the time of the crash. The speed limit in the area is 35 miles per hour.
Even though Miller said he has seen a lot in his years, he admitted it was “still a hard thing to swallow.”
“My son-in-law is a minister, and he puts it best the minute you’re born, your ticket is punched,” Miller said. “It’s something as a community we’re going to have to heal from. I feel for the elementary school kids. I pray for them that they heal.”
Roeske said his understanding is the school bus was to arrive momentarily.
“In fact, from what I understand, the bus arrived at the scene within just a few moments of the crash.”
A statement issued late Friday afternoon by the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District said students on Solien’s bus did not see the accident, and were transported to school as normal.
School district officials worked throughout the day notifying staff and parents of the students who rode Solien’s bus and who were in his class. Solien was a second grade student at Parkside Elementary in Buffalo, and had previously attended Saint Francis Xavier Catholic School in Buffalo.
All Parkside parents were notified of his death, according to the school district. A separate letter was sent home to the parents of Solien’s classmates notifying them of the tragic accident and letting them know that counselors would be on call Monday should students need extra support. They were also provided tips on how to talk with their child should they have questions about the accident.
“Parkside Elementary and BHM Schools are deeply saddened by the accident and extend their thoughts and prayers to all of those involved,” according to the statement. “They will continue to support students, parents and staff affected by this tragedy in the days and weeks ahead.”
The Associated Press reports Mercier’s wife, Suzann, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that her husband was driving his usual 60-mile route home from Big Lake after working the overnight shift for Metro Transit, where he was a mechanic for the Northstar commuter rail line.
“He probably fell asleep,” she told the newspaper.
The vehicle involved in the crash is being held and processed, as is standard procedure with a fatal crash, according to Roeske.
Assisting the state patrol at the scene included the Montrose Fire Department, Delano Fire Department, Wright County Sheriff’s Office, and Ridgeview Ambulance.