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HAPPY'S INN - One weekend accident involving two vehicles here has students at three schools across northwest Montana trying to cope with the tragic loss of four lives.

As the Montana Highway Patrol on Tuesday released the names of the victims of Saturday's crash on U.S. Highway 2, counselors at Libby High School, Columbia Falls Junior High School and Kalispell Middle School were already on their second day of helping teenage and pre-teen students deal with the deaths of their classmates.

The patrol said Ramona Bauer, 59, and two of her grandchildren, 12-year-old Jade Ulrich and 13-year-old Jeremy Dodge-Sanders, died when a 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe driven by 17-year-old Jacob Colclough rolled, went airborne and smashed into the top of a van being driven by Bauer.

The accident happened at about 6 p.m. Neither speed nor alcohol were factors in the crash, authorities said.

Colclough, a Montana National Guard soldier and senior at Libby High School, was ejected from his vehicle and also died at the scene. Authorities believe Colclough fell asleep at the wheel and overcorrected when he woke up, which sent his vehicle rolling into the oncoming lane of traffic.

Colclough, who was still in uniform, was returning from a meeting of his National Guard unit in Kalispell.

Bauer and her grandchildren were on their way home from a Little Guy wrestling tournament in Libby.

A bus carrying Little Guy wrestlers from Columbia Falls - where Ulrich was a seventh-grader and her cousin, Dodge-Sanders, had been enrolled until moving to Kalispell Middle School last fall - passed the accident scene later that evening.

***

Impromptu memorials quickly sprang up in front of the school lockers of Colclough, at Libby High School, and Ulrich, at Columbia Falls Junior High, where classmates left bouquets of flowers and decorated the locker doors. At Kalispell Middle School, students planned for a day to honor Dodge-Sanders and raise money for his family.

"Jeremy was a great kid to be around," said Columbia Falls Junior High principal Dave Wick. "He liked sports and hunting, he was funny and outgoing, and was obviously well-liked by his peers."

He was less well known among the near-1,000-member student body at his new school in Kalispell, but principal Barry Grace said Dodge-Sanders made a quick impression on his new teachers and the students who shared classes with him.

Grace said Dodge-Sanders' team of teachers cobbled together their thoughts about the student they lost, and the words echoed those of Wick: "energetic," "kind," "fun," "light-hearted," "playful."

"Jeremy's big smile and friendly personality filled our class with joy!" one wrote. "We will miss him."

***

It was doubly difficult in Columbia Falls, where Dodge-Sanders still had many friends and his cousin Ulrich was a popular student.

"It's been devastating to the school and students," Wick said. "We're just heartbroken."

Jade, he said, was "a wonderful young lady with lots of friends. I didn't know her as well as her teachers, but she was a kind person, gentle and fun-loving."

Teachers were contacted Sunday, and met Monday morning before school started, Wick said. A "quick response team" made up of counselors and a local minister have been working with students.

"We have places where they can get together, talk and grieve," Wick said. Teachers read a statement at the start of the school day, and a letter was sent home to parents outlining coping strategies.

There's also a room set aside for a small memorial area that contains pictures of the two cousins.

"We're doing as well as can be expected," Wick said.

***

At Libby, meantime, Cloclough was remembered as a champion of the underdog.

"Jacob was not loud or boisterous," principal Rik Rewerts said. "But he was always willing to step up and stick up for people for all the right reasons."

"I had a student in my office just this morning," assistant principal Jim Germany said, "and he told me, ‘Jacob got me through middle school. Anytime anyone would pick on me he'd stop it.' Jacob was just a great kid. If anyone gave someone a hard time in the hall, he took care of it. He was a big brother to a lot of kids."

Both men felt Cloclough's decision to make the military his career, and join the National Guard at such a young age, were perfect for him.

"He was a protector," Rewerts said.

"He wasn't always an angel," Germany added, "but at no time did he have evil in his heart. The military was an awesome choice for him, because that's just who he was."

Four counselors have been on call for students, according to Germany, as well as two youth ministers.

"Yesterday was a rough, rough day," Germany said. "A lot of students had to be excused. Jacob ... had a lot of friends, and they crossed all cliques."

A full military funeral for Cloclough is planned for Friday at 10 a.m. in the Libby High School gymnasium, Germany said - the only place in town big enough to hold all the friends, family and fellow National Guard members expected.

Details of services for Ramona Bauer and her two grandchildren could not be confirmed, but it appeared they too would use a larger venue, perhaps at the Flathead County Fairgrounds this weekend.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at (406) 319-2117 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

 

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