MOORHEAD — On Tuesday, July 23, the second day of trial in a wrongful death lawsuit in Clay County District Court, a former weight room coach at Moorhead's Park Christian School choked up as he talked about Zach Kvalvog and Connor Kvalvog, two brothers who died in a traffic crash on their way to a basketball tournament in Wisconsin in 2015.
At the time of their deaths, Zach was 18 and his brother was 14.
Andy Doll described both boys as exceptional athletes and said Zach, in particular, was always willing to go the extra mile when asked to do so.
"The kid never said no," Doll said, adding that Zach Kvalvog told him that he didn't want to go to the Wisconsin tournament, but instead wanted to go to a different tournament where he could compete against other young men keen on having college basketball careers.
Doll said he encouraged Zach Kvalvog to take the Wisconsin trip along with his Park Christian teammates.
"I wish I wouldn't have," Doll said before pausing mid-sentence and asking the court to "give me a second here."
After collecting himself, Doll said Zach Kvalvog was pulled in "100 different directions" by coaches who were impressed by his athletic ability, adding he believed many, including the school, had "failed him."
The comment brought an objection from attorneys representing Park Christian School and Josh Lee, who was Park Christian's basketball coach at the time of the traffic crash.
The objection was upheld by Judge Michelle Winkis Lawson, who instructed jurors to disregard it.
The lawsuit brought by the boys' parents, Ray and Kathie Kvalvog, seeks $82.9 million from the school and Lee.
According to court records, Zach Kvalvog was driving his brother and two teammates to the tournament in Wisconsin when the crash happened on June 23, 2015, on Interstate 94 near Dalton, Minn. A semi crowded into Zach Kvalvog's eastbound lane of I-94, causing him to swerve and overcorrect, a Minnesota State Patrol report said.
The pickup truck Zach Kvalvog was driving rolled into the median and ended up on the interstate’s westbound lanes.
The brothers died in the crash. Passengers Mark Schwandt and Jimmy Morton were hospitalized, but they recovered.
Michael Bryant, an attorney representing the Kvalvog family, asserted in court on Monday that the tournament was a school event and at the time of the crash the Kvalvog vehicle was following two other vehicles in a small caravan, the first being an SUV carrying other basketball players and the second being a car that carried only its driver, Lee.
Bryant suggested factors like distance traveled and elapsed time indicate the average speed of the caravan could have been 82.9 mph. Lee confirmed in testimony Monday that he estimated the caravan may have been traveling between 75 and 80 mph. The speed limit on I-94 in Minnesota is 70 mph.
Bryant has hinted the $82.9 million compensation demand may be based in some fashion on the 82.9 mph speed figure.
Kenneth Drevnick, a former Minnesota State Patrol trooper and now a private consultant who does crash reconstruction, testified for the plaintiffs Tuesday, providing his opinions on how fast the Kvalvog pickup was traveling at the time of the crash and how driver inexperience may have led to abrupt steering moves that resulted in tragedy.
Based on data that included information from a sensor in the pickup's airbag system, Drevnick estimated the pickup was driving 77 mph moments before the crash and Zach Kvalvog may have intentionally reached about 80 mph as he attempted to pass a semi and trailer moving at about 65 mph.
Drevnick said when Kvalvog sensed the semi was crowding into his lane he made a sudden movement to the left, then a sudden turn to the right and, finally, a very strong swerve back to the left, which sent the pickup into a slide and a roll that carried it across the median to the westbound lanes of I-94, where it came to rest.
During the crash, the pickup may have reached 116 mph before coming to a stop, according to Drevnick, who said that in passing the semi Zach Kvalvog was likely trying to keep pace with the other vehicles in the caravan.
"In a nutshell, you have a teenager that's in charge of three other teenagers," Drevnick said. "Zachary was trying to keep up with the coaches; they set the tone of the driving."
A search for answers
Ray Kvalvog testified Tuesday that the morning the group left for the tournament it was unclear for a time how his sons would get there.
He said he wanted Lee to drive the boys in the family's pickup, but it turned out Lee was dealing with problems with his own vehicle and gave other reasons why he couldn't drive the pickup.
Ray Kvalvog said he asked another parent if she would drive the pickup, but the parent turned him down, too, as did coach Doll.
Kvalvog said he was not feeling good because the group was due to leave soon and he had work commitments that didn't allow him to drive in the caravan.
Ultimately, Kvalvog said he let his son get behind the wheel, a decision he said he would change if it was in his power.
Kvalvog added that if he had known the caravan would exceed the speed limit and that his sons' vehicle would be last in line he never would have allowed them to go.
The wrongful death suit claims Lee was negligent for failing to maintain a reasonable means of transportation to a school athletic event and that the school was vicariously liable for any negligence on Lee’s part.
On Tuesday, Paul Rocheford, an attorney representing Lee and Park Christian School, pressed Ray Kvalvog on why he didn't drive the boys himself on the fateful day in 2015.
"You wanted to get an extra day of work in, didn't you?" Rocheford said.
"That was one of many things," Kvalvog replied.
Rocheford also focused on what he described as Ray Kvalvog's never-ending quest for information regarding the crash, and in particular details about the semi truck and its driver, who has never been located.
"You've been described as someone who won't take no for an answer, correct?" Rocheford said.
Kvalvog agreed, adding that he will likely never stop searching for the driver of the pickup.
"You always have hope you have answers," he said.
'One turn and it was over'
Tuesday's testimony opened with Bryant asking questions of Morton, one of the two boys who survived the pickup crash.
Morton said before the incident, they were "just being teenagers — laughing, talking."
He said when he saw the semi and trailer veering toward them, he looked to Zach Kvalvog to warn him, but his friend had already seen the threat and was reacting to it.
"He (Zach) made the evasive action to save my life, it was one turn and it was over," Morton said, adding that when the semi moved toward the pickup it came so close he could have reached out his window and touched it.
Morton said he didn't know if the semi driver was aware of the pickup.
"I hope it wasn't purposeful," he said and added he lost consciousness after the pickup left the road.
He said when he woke up he was in the hospital.
Holding his head in his hands, Morton turned tearful and quiet before speaking again.
When he did, he whispered the same three words over and over:
"You can't forget," he said. "You can't forget."