'I knew it was him': Ada father was first responder on scene of crash that killed teen son
ADA, Minn.—A grieving father here who lost one of his sons this week in a car crash—a wreck he responded to as a volunteer firefighter—said there's one thing he really wants every parent to do.
"Just hug your kids every night, tell them that you love them every day," said Randy Peterson of Ada, whose 16-year-old son Carter was killed Sunday, Oct. 16, on the outskirts of the neighboring town of Borup.
Peterson wishes he had given of those gestures more freely.
"Not often enough," Peterson said.
His son had dropped off his girlfriend in Hawley and was headed back to Ada when the crash happened just before 10 p.m., less than 10 miles from home.
As a volunteer with the Ada Fire Department, Peterson is accustomed to being called out to fight fires and help at accident scenes. When his pager went off for a car crash in Borup Sunday night, and he learned one of the vehicles was on fire, Peterson said his first thought was that his son wasn't home yet and that he was probably in that very area.
"I started calling him," Peterson said. "I called him all the way to the scene," but his son didn't answer.
Peterson arrived in an Ada fire truck at the intersection of Highway 9 and County Road 39 to see a car upside down and on fire.
"I saw the tires, and I knew it was him," he said.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota State Patrol revised its initial assessment of the crash that killed Carter. It originally said Carter's car was westbound on County Road 39 and crossed in front of a pickup on Highway 9.
Now, the Patrol says Carter's car was going north on Highway 9, and a pickup going east on County Road 39 hit the car on the driver's side.
Peterson and other Ada fire crews had responded to a similar traumatic scene a few miles east of there, just four weeks earlier.
A pickup and a semi collided at County Road 39 and Highway 24 the night of Sept. 19, causing the pickup to start on fire. The driver, Ada native Doug Miller, died at the scene.
Miller was a friend to many on the Ada fire department, including Fire Chief Steve Petry, his golfing partner.
"It hits pretty close to home and hits pretty hard," Petry said.
It was Petry who gave Randy Peterson a ride home from the crash Sunday night, after Peterson realized his son had died.
"Stunned stupor," is how Petry described the drive.
"I tried to give comforting words to Randy and had my hand on his shoulder the whole way back," said Petry, choking back tears.
When they parted at Peterson's home, the two hugged and Petry "hung on to him for a while'"before leaving, he said.
The community planned to honor Carter and his family at the football game against Cass Lake-Bena in Ada on Wednesday, Oct. 19, including Randy and Chasity Peterson, along with Carter's brother Matthew, 21, and sister Emma, 10.
The Cass Lake-Bena school planned to perform a drum circle and present the family with wild rice, a symbol of hope. The Ada-Borup Cougars were to give the Peterson family Carter's football jersey, No. 63, which will be retired. Both teams also planned to wear helmet decals bearing Carter's number, with his number will painted on the middle of the football field.
Though Carter also played basketball and was a thrower for the track team at Ada-Borup, he had a definite favorite.
"Football, by far. He lived for football," Peterson said.
At 6 feet tall, with a size 14 shoe, Carter was a big kid, playing defensive tackle and right guard for the Cougars.
Peterson said people knew Carter by three things: his laugh, his smile and his run, which his dad only described as "unique."
The two bonded over sports—mostly watching the Minnesota Vikings and the North Dakota State University Bison. They recently went to a game at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
"He loved it," Peterson said. "Thought it was the coolest thing in the world."
Carter was hoping to be able to play there, in the event their team advanced to the Minnesota 9-man football championship.
Both Peterson and Petry are thankful for support from the community, and hope it will continue.
"And hope that it's quiet, and nothing happens here for a long, long time," Petry said.