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Larimore residents who responded to accident are guests at State of the Union Address

The Lunskis were in denial when they were handed a handwritten note from a neighbor down the street, asking them to call U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's assistant about an invitation to the State of the Union Address in the nation's Capitol.

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Susan and Richard Lunski stand in front of the White House. Submitted photo.

The Lunskis were in denial when they were handed a handwritten note from a neighbor down the street, asking them to call U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's assistant about an invitation to the State of the Union Address in the nation's Capitol.

But then Richard and Susan Lunski, of Larimore, N.D., got a call from Heitkamp, D-N.D., and heard her voice over the phone, thanking them for accepting her invitation to the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"At that point, we knew it was for real," Susan said Tuesday from Washington, D.C.

With their home less than 100 yards from a grade crossing, the Lunskis were among the first responders to the scene where a train collided with a school bus earlier this month outside Larimore, claiming the lives of the 62-year-old bus driver and educator, Max Danner , and a 17-year-old Larimore High School senior Cassidy Sandstrom . The accident also sent 10 of the 12 other children aboard the bus to Altru Hospital, three of whom were then airlifted to hospitals in Fargo and the Twin Cities.

The Lunskis were home at the time of the accident, and when they heard the "boom" of the collision, they rushed toward the sound of kids screaming to comfort the distraught children, many of whom sustained injuries, and take them from out of the cold into their car. At one point, Richard dragged a girl out from underneath the school bus' engine compartment.

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"We can all say we would do it, but none of us know what we would do in that moment of fear and anxiety and all-out emergency," Heitkamp told the Herald over the phone Tuesday.

The Lunskis have said they did what anyone else would have done in the same situation.

"When you find people who react with their hearts and who react with their heads, it's to be celebrated," Heitkamp said.

The Lunskis arrived in Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon - their first time ever in the nation's Capitol - and spent the day Tuesday touring the White House, U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress and National Museum of the American Indian.

Susan especially prized their visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, seeing as she was raised on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, she said.

"I've got history that goes back to the 1700s," she said.

The Lunskis ate dinner with Heitkamp and other area legislators Tuesday evening and were seated in the gallery as Heitkamp's guests for President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address.

Heitkamp did not know Tuesday when she spoke with the Herald whether the Lunskis would be singled out and recognized by Obama in his speech, but said she would be surprised since their invitation to the event was relatively last-minute.

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Regardless, she said, their actions "exemplify and represent the best of America."

"Our inspiring story are these two citizens who gave comfort in probably the scariest time of a young child's life," she said.

On Wednesday, the Lunskis will eat breakfast with Heitkamp and then do more touring, hopefully making it to the Washington National Cathedral and the Arlington National Cemetery by day's close. They return to North Dakota Thursday.

Overall, they said their trip to the nation's Capitol has been "wonderful."

"More families should take their children to Washington, D.C. instead of Disney," Susan remarked, saying she and Richard have learned so much in their short time there.

Thanking everyone who has already donated, Richard urged area residents to attend a benefit auction from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the American Legion in Larimore. All proceeds will be donated to the families whose loved ones were involved in the accident.

Larimore Benefit Auction

When: Saturday, from 5 to 10 p.m.

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Where: American Legion, 114 E. Main St., Larimore

Why: To raise money for the families affected by the train-bus collision near Larimore

 

More on the crash:

Tragedy at the tracks: Student, driver killed after train and school bus crash

Accident brings back painful memories for Larimore woman

Larimore man dragged injured student out from under bus after crash with train

After fatal Larimore train crash, Twin Cities families offer food, beds for loved ones of those involved

Larimore Strong: People react to fatal school bus crash in Larimore, North Dakota

Parents: Larimore crash victim tried to save students on bus

Victims of Larimore crash remembered by family, friends

Community raises funds for Larimore crash victims

Larimore Strong: Train-school bus crash aftermath shows many people try to help

School bus crash likely to revive debate over bus seat belts

Fundraisers set for Larimore school bus-train crash victims

In Our Schools: FFA shows support for Larimore

More than 600 turn out for Larimore benefit

Kat Perkins to visit Larimore

Heitkamp invites Larimore school bus accident rescuers to State of Union address

Funds secured to install arms at Larimore railroad crossing

Larimore residents who responded to accident are guests at State of the Union Address

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Richard and Susan Lunski of Larimore, N.D., with U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. The Lunskis wore their Larimore Strong jackets, while Sen. Heitkamp wore a Larimore Strong t-shirt. Submitted photo.

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