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PEOPLE OF THE YEAR: Lunskis, first on scene of Larimore crash, helped save children

LARIMORE, N.D.--It's been almost a year since a BNSF train and a Larimore school bus collided some 100 yards from their home, but Richard and Susan Lunski can still picture the scene as if it were yesterday.

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The Herald chose the Susan and Richard Lunski as the area's People of the Year for their efforts to save children injured after the Jan. 5, 2015, collision. The Lunskis were the first people on the scene after the collision occurred about 100 yards from their house. Photo by Wade Rupard/Grand Forks Herald
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LARIMORE, N.D.-It's been almost a year since a BNSF train and a Larimore school bus collided some 100 yards from their home, but Richard and Susan Lunski can still picture the scene as if it were yesterday. Richard can still hear the loud bang, rushing out into the cold winter afternoon without a coat-seeing children scattered with broken limbs, their backpacks and other belongings tossed around while two people lay dead on the ground. They did everything they could to comfort the kids until help arrived, wrapping them with warm blankets and even dragging one girl out from underneath the school bus' engine compartment. Because of their efforts to save the injured children after the Jan. 5, 2015, collision, the Herald chose the Lunskis as the area's People of the Year. "We never would have expected something like this," Richard said about the recognition. "You just do what you do in life. You run into situations and make the best of it." From being the first people on the scene to the train-bus collision to being U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's guests for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, the Lunskis have had a whirlwind of a year.
 "It's been a crazy year but we've just taken things one day at a time," Susan said. On the day that started their "crazy" year, the couple were at home while the school bus dropped off a few children in their subdivision, including their granddaughter. The Lunskis saw the school bus go by and then heard a bang. "My wife looked at me and said, 'Oh my gosh, I think it's the bus,' " Richard said. The bus driver, Max Danner, 62, had failed to yield to a stop sign at the train tracks and went into the path of the westbound train, the Herald reported. Quick to act Richard said he did what anybody would have done and ran outside as fast as he could to find a chaotic scene. The front tires of the bus were on the train tracks when the train collided with the right side of the bus near its doors, causing the bus to spin counter clockwise 360 degrees and throw several passengers from the bus. The Lunskis carried as many as they could to their car and wrapped them in blankets, holding them close until paramedics arrived about 15 minutes later. "You never know from day to day if you'll run into situations or accidents," Richard said. "You just have to jump in and help the best you can." Richard did all of this after having suffered a stroke the previous year. "He is my hero," Susan said of her husband. "He's still recovering from a stroke he had in 2014, so what he did for those children was amazing. He's still numb on the whole left side. He struggles everyday, but what he did was amazing." The crash claimed the lives of Danner and 17-year-old Cassidy Sandstrom, a senior at Larimore High School, and sent 10 of the 12 other students on board to the hospital. Though it's been almost a year since the accident, Richard still wonders if there was anything else he could have done to help. "I still go back and think about what I could have done more, but there's only so much you can do when you have that many people involved," he said. In the weeks after the crash, the community came together with fundraisers and auctions to raise money for those affected by the incident. "It's a really great community to bond together like this," Susan said. "There's a lot of great people in Larimore." After the crash, the Lunskis got a call from Heitkamp, D-N.D., to see the president's State of the Union address. Neither one of them had been to Washington before, much less thought they'd be in the same room as the president. While in the nation's capital, the couple toured the city and had dinner with Heitkamp and other legislators along with being seated in the in the gallery for the address. "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 in January. Nearly a year after the crash and visit to Washington, railroad crossing arms now greet the Lunskis when they pass through the intersection. The accident sparked outcry and calls for improvements at the crossing and similar ones in the area. The county also approved upgrades at County Roads 16 and 20 in November. "I'm really happy to heave it here," Richard said. "Every time you hear a train, you used to cringe. But now, we've got a little bit of security and it's safer than it's ever been."LARIMORE, N.D.-It's been almost a year since a BNSF train and a Larimore school bus collided some 100 yards from their home, but Richard and Susan Lunski can still picture the scene as if it were yesterday.Richard can still hear the loud bang, rushing out into the cold winter afternoon without a coat-seeing children scattered with broken limbs, their backpacks and other belongings tossed around while two people lay dead on the ground.They did everything they could to comfort the kids until help arrived, wrapping them with warm blankets and even dragging one girl out from underneath the school bus' engine compartment.Because of their efforts to save the injured children after the Jan. 5, 2015, collision, the Herald chose the Lunskis as the area's People of the Year."We never would have expected something like this," Richard said about the recognition. "You just do what you do in life. You run into situations and make the best of it."From being the first people on the scene to the train-bus collision to being U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's guests for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, the Lunskis have had a whirlwind of a year.
 "It's been a crazy year but we've just taken things one day at a time," Susan said.On the day that started their "crazy" year, the couple were at home while the school bus dropped off a few children in their subdivision, including their granddaughter.The Lunskis saw the school bus go by and then heard a bang."My wife looked at me and said, 'Oh my gosh, I think it's the bus,' " Richard said.The bus driver, Max Danner, 62, had failed to yield to a stop sign at the train tracks and went into the path of the westbound train, the Herald reported.Quick to actRichard said he did what anybody would have done and ran outside as fast as he could to find a chaotic scene.The front tires of the bus were on the train tracks when the train collided with the right side of the bus near its doors, causing the bus to spin counter clockwise 360 degrees and throw several passengers from the bus.The Lunskis carried as many as they could to their car and wrapped them in blankets, holding them close until paramedics arrived about 15 minutes later."You never know from day to day if you'll run into situations or accidents," Richard said. "You just have to jump in and help the best you can."Richard did all of this after having suffered a stroke the previous year."He is my hero," Susan said of her husband. "He's still recovering from a stroke he had in 2014, so what he did for those children was amazing. He's still numb on the whole left side. He struggles everyday, but what he did was amazing."The crash claimed the lives of Danner and 17-year-old Cassidy Sandstrom, a senior at Larimore High School, and sent 10 of the 12 other students on board to the hospital.Though it's been almost a year since the accident, Richard still wonders if there was anything else he could have done to help."I still go back and think about what I could have done more, but there's only so much you can do when you have that many people involved," he said.In the weeks after the crash, the community came together with fundraisers and auctions to raise money for those affected by the incident."It's a really great community to bond together like this," Susan said. "There's a lot of great people in Larimore."After the crash, the Lunskis got a call from Heitkamp, D-N.D., to see the president's State of the Union address. Neither one of them had been to Washington before, much less thought they'd be in the same room as the president.While in the nation's capital, the couple toured the city and had dinner with Heitkamp and other legislators along with being seated in the in the gallery for the address."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 in January.Nearly a year after the crash and visit to Washington, railroad crossing arms now greet the Lunskis when they pass through the intersection.The accident sparked outcry and calls for improvements at the crossing and similar ones in the area. The county also approved upgrades at County Roads 16 and 20 in November."I'm really happy to heave it here," Richard said. "Every time you hear a train, you used to cringe. But now, we've got a little bit of security and it's safer than it's ever been."

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Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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