A beautiful, warm April Fool's Day morning turned into a nightmare when a motor home carrying members of a motocross racing family lost control on Interstate 35 and plunged down a ravine.
Five were killed and 13 injured, authorities said. Three of those injured suffered life-threatening injuries in the crash just southwest of Williamsburg in Osage County.
The five family members who died in the crash have been identified as Melissa Kerber, 24, Tom Kerber, 25, Jessica Kerber, 10, Joy Kerber, 14, and James Kerber, 12. Tom and Melissa Kerber were married and lived in New Prague, MN. The three brothers and sisters lived in Jordan, MN, with their mother.
Investigators said the family was returning from a motocross event in Texas and were on their way to their home in Jordan, MN, when the crash happened.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said the truck, which was pulling the 57,000-pound motor home, was driven by 17-year-old Adam Kerber who veered off the road. When Adam Kerber tried to get back on, the truck hit a guard rail then a concrete bridge rail before flipping and plunging 30 feet down a ravine about 9 a.m. Sunday.
Authorities said all five of the family members killed in the accident were not wearing seatbelts. According to the crash report, only two of the injured, including the driver, were wearing seatbelts.
Two of the injured were still in critical condition Monday.
Overland Park Regional Medical Center initially said Pauline Kerber, 46, is in critical but stable condition, and her son, Adam Kerber, who was driving, is in critical condition.
The hospital issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, over a week after the crash, that Pauline Kerber has been discharged to her home community in Minnesota. Adam Kerber has been transferred from Overland Park Regional Medical Center to a hospital closer to home for further medical care and rehabilitation.
"We are incredibly grateful for the enormous amount of support and random acts of kindness we have experienced in the local area," stated Russell Kerber, age 24, son of Pauline. "We are one step closer to having our family together again, and for that we are very happy. We know we have a long road ahead, but the outpouring of love and prayers have helped us through this tragedy. Healing is taking place."
"Thank you for the outpouring love and support during this tragic accident. We appreciate the prayers of so many, and appreciate you respecting our privacy as we mourn our deep loss," said Pauline Kerber in statement issued by the hospital on Sunday.
In Monday's statement, she said she will "deeply miss" her four children and daughter-in-law.
"But (I) find strength knowing they are all reunited," she said.
The hospital issued a second statement on behalf of her son, Russell Kerber, 24, late Monday afternoon.
"Our family has been overwhelmed with the many thoughts and prayers during this tragic time," he said. "We are deeply saddened to confirm the passing of our beautiful family members who are full of life. However, we take comfort knowing they are with our father, who passed away in 2006."
In a statement, Melissa Schoenbauer Kerber's mother said they are mourning their loss.
"Melissa was a beautiful woman, and we will miss her dearly," Mary Schoenbauer said. "We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support during our time of loss."
The accident occurred on I-35 near mile marker 167, three miles south of Williamsburg. A highway sign for Tequa Creek was strewn among the debris, with some landing in the creek.
More than 30 emergency crew vehicles were on the scene at the time of the crash. The Freightliner box truck had been converted to include living quarters. The vehicle was also towing a trailer.
Authorities closed the interstate while they investigated the crash. The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but part of it will look at whether Adam Kerber needed a special license to drive the vehicle in Kansas.
He would not have in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Public Safety Department said Adam Kerber had a restricted driver's license.
In Minnesota, Adam Kerber's driver's license normally wouldn't have allowed him to drive a commercial vehicle like that because of its weight and because it was carrying more than 15 people. But neither of the restrictions applied because of a loophole in Minnesota state law regarding private RVs.
Kansas law requires seatbelts be used by front passengers, and both were. The other front-seat passenger was also a 15-year-old teen, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Kansas law does not require those in the back of the vehicle to use seatbelts.
The 13 people hurt in the crash were sent to several different hospitals around northeast Kansas.
A child in critical condition was sent to Children's Mercy while three others were transported to Ransom Memorial Hospital in Ottawa, four went to Olathe Medical Hospital and three others were rushed to Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
Two more people were sent to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka.
WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate, said the family owns Kerber Auto. Pauline Kerber has 12 children. She and nine of her children had gone to San Antonio, TX, for their annual spring vacation.
Adam Kerber has won many trophies in the racing sport. Pauline Kerber's husband, Glen, had inspired the family's love for the sport, and his dying wish was to keep the family involved in motocross racing.
Family members said they are now in the process of making funeral arrangements.
A fund has been established. Donations may be made to Hometown Bank, Kerber Family Fund, 101 South Creek Lane, Jordan, MN. The telephone is 952-492-5599.
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