Five members of a Minnesota racing family are dead after their vehicle ran through a guardrail on Interstate 35 and plunged 30 feet into a Kansas ravine Sunday morning. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the dead have been identified as Tom Kerber, 25, and his wife, Melissa Kerber, 24, both of New Prague, Minnesota, and Jessica Kerber, 10, James Kerber, 12, and Joy Kerber, 14, of Jordan. The family was returning to Minnesota in a semitrailer converted to a recreational vehicle after spending a week in Texas racing motorcycles.
Officials work to clear the debris-filled ravine off Interstate 35 in Kansas. Photo compliments of the Star Tribune
The Kansas State Patrol is investigating the cause of the accident and charges are not expected to be filed against the truck’s driver, 17-year old Adam Kerber. The 57,000-pound vehicle was carrying 18 people, mostly members of the Kerber family and a few friends. Four of the thirteen survivors remained in critical condition through Monday, including Adam Kerber. Mary Mohn, a nurse practitioner also from Minnesota, was returning home from a conference with a friend and was one of the first on the scene to assist the victims.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Mohn said. “It looked like the RV exploded. The walls were on both sides of the creek. A couch was sitting in the creek. Toilets were on the embankment. Clothes and food and shoes were scattered all over. I could hear a woman screaming … and kids whimpering, crying.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has joined the investigation and is probing whether Adam Kerber was legally certified to drive such a large vehicle. The truck has been described as a freightliner with built in living space that was towing an additional trailer of racing equipment. Most states, including Minnesota, require a commercial license to operate a vehicle that weighs over 26,000 pounds and carries more than 15 people. But due to it’s modifications the Kerber’s truck was classified as a recreational vehicle, and Minnesota law allows citizens with standard class D licenses to operate RVs for personal use.
Remains of the Kerber Family RV. Photo compliments of the Star Tribune
Given the evidence presented thus far, it certainly appears that Adam Kerber was legally operating the vehicle under Minnesota law. The question authorities should be asking is why the state of Minnesota allows anyone without a commerical drivers license to operate a vehicle over 26,000 pounds at all. If professional truck drivers are required to go through intensive training to earn a commercial drivers license, shouldn’t civilians who drive the same vehicles be required to submit to that training as well?
The accident occurred around 9 AM Sunday Morning. Photo compliments of the Star Tribune
Similar to professional truck drivers, RV owners like the Kerbers often drive their vehicles long distances across the country for vacations and other road trips. The difference is that professionals are subject to licensing, training and regulations on when and how long they can drive (that are in place to protect other drivers!), while the RV owner is viewed under Minnesota law the same as any other non-truck driver on the road. If someone decides to make the monetary investment of purchasing an RV that weighs over 26,000 pounds, they should be required to make the safety investment of undergoing the training required to earn a commercial drivers license.
While he offered no comment on the Kerber accident, the president of the Minnesota Trucking Association conceded that not just anyone is capable of operating a large commercial vehicle.
“We call them professional truck drivers because they have had experience and training that prepare them to handle the physics of driving a larger vehicle,” John Hausladen told The Associated Press. “They receive training with regard to stopping distances, following distances, blind spots and other aspects of maneuvering with a large vehicle.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota House Public Safety Committee Chairman Tony Cornish says he does not expect any changes to the current law on RV driver eligibility. At the very least, a seemingly preventable tragedy of this magnitude should urge healthy debate about the safety of allowing untrained drivers to operate commercial vehicles.
The Kerber Family Fund has been set up to assist the family and all victims at Hometown Bank in Jordan.
Donations can be sent to:
Kerber Family Fund
101 South Creek Lane
Jordan, Minnesota 55352
(952) 492 – 5599 Phone
If you or a loved one has been severely injured from a catastrophic automobile accident, please contact our office immediately for a free consultation. You can also learn more about GoldenbergLaw, PLLC by visiting our website or our auto safety resource center.
For more information on Sunday’s tragedy, please visit the following sites.
Star Tribune Story on Accident
Star Tribune Follow Up On NTSB Investigation
KSTP Story on Accident
Associated Press Story on Accident
Minnesota Public Radio Story on Accident