Minnesota Firefighter Responds to Fatal Crash, Finds his Son’s Body

Randy Peterson and family.
Randy Peterson and family.

When he received the call, Randy Peterson was immediately gripped by the fear only a parent can know.

The Minnesota man gives his free time to be a volunteer firefighter with the Ada Fire Department. So when his pager went off on Sunday night, it should have felt like any other call. There had been a car crash in Borup, a nearby town, and one of the cars had caught fire. Peterson was needed.

He was a father with a strict routine. Each time his pager buzzed, he called to check on his three children, fearing the worst. Normally, they pick up and reassure him, before he reaches the scene.

This time, though, his 16-year-old son Carter didn’t answer. Peterson knew the teenager had been out with his girlfriend, Sarah Hanna, earlier that evening, and at around 10 p.m. was likely driving home somewhere near Borup, a 161- acre town with a population of 110.

“I started calling him,” Peterson told the Grand Forks Herald. “I called him all the way to the scene.”

He tried calming himself. His boy was a good driver.

“Carter was probably the most cautious driver — two hands on the wheel, and he never sped,” Peterson told the Star Tribune. “He did nothing wrong.”

He hoped beyond hope he wouldn’t see the boy’s Dodge Avenger burning in a ditch. But when he arrived, that gut-wrenching scene is exactly what he found.

“Seeing the car on fire and the rims, I knew [it was my son],” Peterson told the Star Tribune. “I dropped to my knees. I was a mess. Another member of the crew just held me.”

An initial report from the State Patrol found that Carter had been driving on Country Road 39, when a Dodge Ram on Hwy. 9 struck him on the driver’s side after allegedly running a stop sign. Alcohol was detected on the breath of the Ram’s driver, 20-year-old Ethan Stensgard of Enderlin, N.D., the Associated Press reported.

Stensgard was not seriously injured.

Fire Chief Steve Petry, who often golfed with Peterson, drove the grieving father home that night. He described Peterson as being in a “stunned stupor.”

“I tried to give comforting words to Randy and had my hand on his shoulder the whole way back,” Petry told the Grand Forks Herald, adding that when he dropped Peterson off, he hugged the bereaved father who “hung onto him for a while.”

Added Petry, “It hits pretty close to home and hits pretty hard.”

“He loved sports. He was a walking encyclopedia when it came to sports,” Peterson told the Star Tribune. “He had one of those infectious smiles and a genuine laugh and chuckle. He was always a happy person.”

In particular, Peterson told the Herald, “he lived for football,” both playing and watching. The junior proudly wore No. 63 as a offensive guard and defensive tackle for the Ada-Borup Cougars.

That number was retired on Wednesday, after the school put on a drum chant and each player from the other team, Cass Lake-Bena, gave each member of the Peterson family wild rice, which is a symbol of hope.

“The community support has been outstanding,” Peterson told the Star Tribune. “That is one thing about small towns. They definitely rally together.”

It’s only been a few long days, but Peterson has a request to every other parent out there.

“Just hug your kids every night, tell them that you love them every day,” he told the Grand Forks Herald.

SOURCE: Travis M. Andrews 
The Washington Post