Seminarians escape injury when van tips on icy Arkansas freeway Saturday

Ten St. John Vianney Seminary students escaped injury early Saturday in eastern Arkansas when their van hit an icy patch on a freeway, veered into the median and tipped over.

The students, who flew back to Minnesota on Sunday, were part of a contingent of 58 SJV freshmen who spent a week doing service projects in the New Orleans area, said Father William Baer, rector of the undergraduate-level seminary, which is located on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

The group arrived Jan. 23 in New Orleans by motor-coach bus and van to help with building projects and give vocation talks at schools in New Orleans, Thibodaux and New Iberia, La., and Mobile, Ala. Baer and Father Michael Becker, formation adviser at SJV, accompanied the students.

They left Friday to return to Minnesota and the 15-passenger van followed the bus on Interstate 55 through Mississippi into Memphis and across the Mississippi River into Arkansas, which was hit by snow and ice storms last week. The accident occurred about 2:30 a.m. near Marion, Ark., when the van left the divided-lane freeway and overturned in the snow-filled median.

“Some windows broke, but we were extremely fortunate there were no injuries,” Baer said. “The bus drivers were in cell phone contact with the students in the van throughout the trip, saw the accident and returned to provide assistance.”

During the trip, SJV students who were 21 or older took turns driving the van, which the seminary leased from Midway Ford in Roseville. The students spent Saturday at a Memphis area hotel before returning to the Twin Cities on Sunday. Baer and SJV staff in St. Paul notified family members on Saturday.

The bus, driven by professional drivers from Harry’s Motorcoach Tours in Wanamingo, continued on its journey and arrived in Minnesota on Saturday night.

Baer said this was the eighth annual service trip by SJV freshmen to Louisiana. The group has grown from 20 in 2003 to nearly 60 this year.