It was a tragic weekend across western Montana, with 11 people killed in four different vehicle accidents.
On Sunday, the bodies of a Sanders County grandmother, her grandson and her great-granddaughter were retrieved from the Clark Fork River after the vehicle they were riding in crashed into the water near Plains on Friday.
Because the river was so murky and fast-moving, rescue teams could not locate the family sedan for almost two days, and only then with the help of multiple search and rescue teams, including divers and a helicopter from Flathead County.
Finally, the car and the woman and children were found on Sunday, said Tom Rummel, Sanders County sheriff.
Divers retrieved the bodies of 63-year-old Kathy Legard, 13-year-old Jake Legard and 4-year-old Payten Yoder late Sunday morning, all of whom were in the car, which was found about 250 yards downriver from the point of entry, Rummel said.
Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Shawn Smalley said search and rescue teams worked steadily to reach the submerged vehicle since Friday night, when a 9-1-1 caller saw the car sink into the river about 13 miles west of Plains, off River Road.
Smalley said the car apparently went out of the family’s driveway, across River Road and down a 15-foot embankment into the river. The river is very wide and murky in that area, he said, which made it extremely difficult for search and rescue crews to reach the car and the bodies.
Kathy Legard was a lifelong resident of Sanders County, and was active in 4-H and helped with afterschool programs.
“I am very appreciative of Flathead County Search and Rescue,” Rummel said. “Their help in expediting the location of the vehicle was able to bring closure to the family.”
While the search crews toiled in Sanders County, a Blackfoot Valley man died after crashing and rolling his car on Highway 200 near Ninemile Prairie Road Sunday morning.
Other drivers in the area called 9-1-1 around 10 a.m. to report an older Suburban driving erratically, said Missoula County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremiah Petersen.
Shortly thereafter, the vehicle went off the highway near mile marker 24, landing with its back bumper in the Blackfoot River, Petersen said.
The driver, a man in his 50s, died at the scene, Petersen said.
Traffic on Highway 200 was limited to one lane until shortly after 1 p.m. The cause of the crash was unknown, Petersen said, and the man’s name was withheld pending notification of family.
Early Sunday morning near Browning, five people were killed and two more were injured when the driver of a pickup truck lost control and rolled the vehicle.
The Montana Highway Patrol said the truck was driven by a 28-year-old man from Babb. The other victims included one male and three females, all between the ages of 17 and 24 years old. The male passenger and two of the females were from Browning.
Two more passengers were treated for injuries and released.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation. But authorities said speed was a factor and that none of the seven people inside the truck were wearing seatbelts. Names of the victims have not yet been identified.
And on Saturday evening, two northwest Montana residents were killed in a single-car crash near Troy.
The Montana Highway Patrol said a Toyota Celica driven by a 32-year-old Troy man veered off Iron Creek Road, killing both the driver and a 21-year-old Libby woman who was a passenger in the car. Both died at the scene.
The patrol said the Celica was northbound at a high rate of speed when it left the road. The driver overcorrected and crossed both lanes of traffic before leaving the west side of the road and hitting a pair of trees.
Names were not available on Sunday, as family members were still being notified of the deaths.