Sept. 27--All they saw was a cloud of dust and flying car parts.
Brandon Sandoz, 19, his girlfriend, Abby Albin, 20, and their friend, Corey Ramold, 18, were driving south Wednesday on state Highway 37. Suddenly, less than 200 yards away, a southbound minivan driven by 23-year-old Sara Ann Claggett, of Tripp, drifted into oncoming traffic and collided with a northbound pickup driven by 82-year-old Donald Geidel, of Dimock.
The crash occurred shortly before 4:30 p.m., about five miles south of Mitchell.
Sandoz, of Valentine, Neb., Albin, of Emery, and Ramold, of O'Neill, Neb., are students at Mitchell Technical Institute.
"Instantly, we knew that there was a wreck," Sandoz said during a press conference arranged Thursday at MTI's Campus Center to satisfy numerous requests for interviews. "We pulled over and all of us got out."
Sandoz ran toward the minivan and freed Claggett's daughter, 2-year-old Lauryn Rene Claggett, from her car seat.
"I don't remember thinking anything," he said. "I just acted."
Not long after Sandoz pulled the child from the wrecked vehicle, it burst into flames, making it impossible to extract Sara Claggett.
"I was probably three steps away from the vehicle when it actually went up," he said.
The students, along with other bystanders, used another vehicle and a chain to tow the wrecked pickup away from the burning minivan and get Geidel out. They started doing chest compressions on Geidel until paramedics arrived at the scene a short time later.
Despite their efforts, both drivers died as a result of the crash. Authorities said neither was wearing a seat belt.
It took five to 15 minutes for the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene after the crash occurred, according to Sandoz. He admitted, however, that the time was the last thing on his mind in the chaos of the crash.
"When your adrenaline is pumping like that, a minute feels like an eternity," he said.
The 2-year-old was transported from the scene to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell and was later taken to a hospital in Sioux Falls with what authorities described as life-threatening injuries.
The girl was in stable condition as of Thursday afternoon, according to John Claggett, of Mitchell, Sara Claggett's uncle.
"The people that jumped in, that's awesome," he said in an interview Thursday with The Daily Republic. "I've just got to say thanks."
Claggett, who is chairman of the Davison County Commission, said despite the loss, he is grateful his niece's daughter was rescued.
"In tragedies like this, it's great when there is something good that comes of it," he said.
Claggett said he does not know what could have caused his niece to drift into oncoming traffic.
Highway Patrol Trooper Matthew Petersen was one of the many law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics who responded to the crash.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol, Davison County Sheriff's Office, Mitchell Fire Department and Ethan Fire Department all responded.
Petersen declined Thursday to divulge any additional details regarding the cause of the crash, saying it is still under investigation.
Terry Woster, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, also declined to speculate on what may have caused the crash, and said only that the investigation is ongoing.
According to a dispatcher, the Mitchell Police Department received a traffic complaint involving a minivan driving south on Highway 37 just three minutes before the crash occurred.
Those bystanders who rushed to help the people involved in the crash saved the 2-year-old child's life, Petersen said.
"There is no doubt that if they wouldn't have done that, I don't think she would have survived," he said.
DelRay Geidel, Donald Geidel's son, also praised the bystanders' actions in an interview Thursday with The Daily Republic. "It was tremendous, the reaction," he said. "I'm just glad they were there and were able to do something."
As Donald Geidel's family gathered Thursday in Dimock, neighbors and friends brought food and offered support. Geidel's funeral information is printed at the top left of this page.
"We're doing well," said DelRay Geidel. "We have family here and we're doing well."
Geidel said his father, a retired farmer, was an avid fisherman and card player who enjoyed stopping in town for a cup of coffee with friends. He also served on the local church and township boards.
"He was just a good man," he said.
Geidel disputes the claim made by investigators that his father was not wearing a seat belt when the crash occurred.
He said the coroner told the family that some of the bruises on his father's body were consistent with marks typically left by seat belts in a crash.
"I think the pickup was just so broken up they couldn't tell it was on."