9 students hurt in van rollover on I-82

By JILL FITZSIMMONS  Herald Valley bureau

Tri-City Herald Article   October 1997


PROSSER — Nine college students headed to a debate tournament were taken to Mid-Columbia hospitals Friday after the van they were riding in blew a tire and rolled twice on Interstate 82.

Those nine college students were treated and released from Prosser Memorial Hospital and the three Tri-City hospitals by Friday afternoon said Mary Rotert, trauma nurse coordinator with the Tri-Cities Trauma Service in Pasco.

Junior Adam Symonds, 20, of Whitman College in Walla Walla, was following behind his peers in another van on the interstate when the accident happened.

The students couldn't believe what they were seeing, Symonds said.

"The general sentiment from everyone in our van is we're all still thinking, 'I didn't just see that,'" he said.

The accident occurred at 10 a.m. near Gibbons Road, about eight miles east of Prosser. Two vans with about 28 students, 14 of whom that rolled, were headed to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for a weekend debate tournament. The students are members of the college’s speech and debate team.



“The general sentiment from everyone in our van is we're all still thinking, 'I didn’t just see that” – Adam Symonds, Whitman Student


Benton County emergency workers help a Whitman College student involved in a van accident Friday along Interstate 82 near Benton City. Nine of the 14 people in the van were treated for minor injuries after a tire blew, causing the van to roll, said Washington State Trooper P.T. Groudel.


At the accident scene, students were consoling their injured friends as paramedics and state troopers worked to have them transported to the hospitals. The nine victims lay near the van or not far from it.

While one young woman cried, her head and neck secured in an orange neck block, a male companion kissed her on the cheek and told her everything would be OK.

The group is a close-knit bunch because they spend so much time traveling to tournaments. Symonds said.

Black skid marks on the interstate showed where the van started having problems and headed for the ditch. Its windows were shattered and the roof mangled and crushed.

The two vans were about 40 feet apart traveling west in the left lane when students in the second van noticed the left rear tire of the leading van was wobbling, Symonds says.

"Then the tire just blew up – it popped.”

The van fishtailed and then swerved hard to the right before it rolled twice, Symonds said.

Seattle truckers Terry Calloway and Jeffrey Berry were on the scene within seconds of the accident and began helping the students. They had seen dust flying suddenly across the interstate and guessed someone was in trouble, Berry said.

"I've been driving 13 years and see a lot of stuff," said Calloway who with Berry helped lift students on stretchers into the ambulances. "I couldn't pass anybody up who needs assistance."

All the van passengers were wearing seat belts, according to the State Patrol.


The accident occurred in the area circled in yellow on the left about 10+ miles from the Pasco Tri-Cities area.