Conservation director describes canoe trip to Clear LakePublished 10:14am Thursday, July 12, 2012
Four or five days a week, all summer long, staff with Worth County Conservation pick up a group of kids and take them out to enjoy nature.
On Tuesday morning, however, during one of those trips to canoe on Clear Lake, those plans for the day quickly came to a halt.
Just after 9:30 a.m., Dan Mueller, Worth County Conservation Board director, said he received a call that a vanload of young girls headed to Clear Lake as part of the county’s Naturalist in the Park program had been in a crash.
“It’s one of those calls as an administrator you hope you never ever have to deal with in your career,” Mueller said.
The van was carrying six girls ages 9 to 12, and its driver was Nicole Streets, 22, who had recently graduated from college and was hired as a naturalist intern for the summer. Being led by the van was a trailer carrying six canoes.
A second van of four boys and a conservation employee were following, and it was this employee, naturalist Dan Block, who notified Mueller.
“All he said is, ‘We have an accident, and it’s really bad,’” Mueller recalled.
He said Block was busy trying to calm down the children.
At that time, Mueller said he didn’t know the full extent of the crash, but as he began to pick up the pieces, he learned that two of the girls, Cassidy Stehn, 9, of Northwood, and Hana Riedinger, 12, of Kensett, Iowa, had died.
The four other girls and Streets were injured.
According to the Iowa State Patrol, Streets was driving southbound on Worth County Road S28, when she reportedly ran a stop sign at the intersection of Iowa Highway 9 and the van was struck broadside by a semi coming eastbound on Highway 9.
The people in both vehicles were wearing their seat belts.
The driver of the semi, Steven Brodersen, 59, of Manly, Iowa, was treated for injuries at the scene.
Following regular personnel policies, Mueller said he went to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa where Streets had been taken to run a post-accident drug test. He said he doesn’t know whether drugs played any part in the crash, but he followed procedures in performing the test.
Then in the hours that followed, Mueller said, he fielded phone calls from parents and other people.
He said there are still many unanswered questions.
“Our hearts and prayers are all with the families of the kids who have died or are injured,” Mueller said. “Being a parent, I know that’s probably the worst call you can get — a phone call saying your child was in an accident.”
As of Wednesday morning, Streets had been treated and released from the hospital, along with Jaela Parks, 10, of Northwood, and Maeghan Petznick, 10, of Northwood.
Hailey Schaefer, 11, of Northwood, was listed in fair condition at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, and Destiny Bruce, 10, of Northwood, remained in critical condition at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.
Mueller said all of the kids conservation programs have been canceled for this week and probably next week as well.
He said in his more than 20 years with Worth County Conservation, he has never seen anything like this happen.
“I just feel really sorry for them because I know it’s going to be a long road to recovery,” Mueller added. “I’m just hoping the community will be there to support them and help everybody through this.”
The van, trailer and canoes were owned by the county.