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Bus driver appears on charges

The attorney for a Moorhead bus driver charged in the death of a Pelican Rapids (Minn.) High School student says his client would like to communicate with the girl's family and others affected by an April crash near Albertville, Minn.

The attorney for a Moorhead bus driver charged in the death of a Pelican Rapids (Minn.) High School student says his client would like to communicate with the girl's family and others affected by an April crash near Albertville, Minn.

"If he could change things, he would. And if he could reach out to the families right now, he would. But, unfortunately he's been charged with a crime," said Eric Olson, a Twin Cities attorney who is representing Loren Ernst.

Ernst made an initial appearance Monday in Wright County District Court on charges of criminal vehicular homicide, criminal vehicular injury and criminal vehicular operation.

The charges stem from an incident April 5 that killed Jessica Weishair, 16.

Weishair was returning home with other students and chaperons from a band trip to Chicago when the bus they were riding in left Interstate 94 and tipped over near Albertville.

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According to the charges, Ernst failed to negotiate a turn and left the road going about 70 mph.

He tried to get back on the road but struck an entrance ramp, rolling the bus and sending it skidding on its right side, according to court documents.

Ernst told investigators it's possible he dozed off when the crash occurred, and a Minnesota State Patrol investigation determined he operated the bus in a grossly negligent manner, according to court documents.

Olson said he wanted to look over reports the prosecution provided him with Monday before he would consider commenting on the investigation.

"We don't believe it's a crime. We believe it's a very, very unfortunate accident. This is something he (Ernst) will never be able to forget," said Olson.

Ernst, whose appearance in court Monday was in response to a summons, was released after being booked at the Wright County Jail and promising to appear at future hearings.

Assistant Wright County Attorney Brian Lutes said when someone appears on a summons, the county attorney's office typically does not ask for bail.

Ernst's next hearing is set for Sept. 15 at 1:30 p.m.

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It will be an opportunity for the defense to challenge any evidence it feels is unconstitutional or otherwise should be excluded from trial, Lutes said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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