A star cross-country athlete out for a training run in Wright County was struck and killed Thursday afternoon when a van crossed two lanes of a rural road and ran into the far shoulder, authorities said Friday.
Phillip LaVallee, 19, who was about to start his sophomore year at South Dakota State University, was hit in the 8300 block of County Road 19 on the western edge of Otsego and was dead at the scene, according to the Wright County Sheriff’s Office.
LaVallee, of Otsego, competed at Monticello High School, earning all-state honors in track and cross-country, and was just a few weeks from reporting for his second season of competition in college.
The van’s driver, Linda L. Gullickson, 67, of Albertville, Minn., was injured and taken by air ambulance to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. Gullickson, who was wearing a seat belt, was in fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The northbound van crossed the centerline on the two-lane road and struck LaVallee as he ran on the southbound shoulder, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators were still trying to determine what sent the van so far to the left on the flat and wide road on a clear day, Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty said. “We don’t know if it was a distraction or a medical [difficulty],” he added.
Monticello track and cross-country coach Dave Wik said LaVallee “was doing everything correctly, being on the right side of the road.”
The coach said he bikes that stretch regularly and described the road as “fairly broad, with two wide shoulders.”
Wik said he and LaVallee had been texting barely 30 minutes earlier about a race where his former athlete could compete over the coming weekend.
“He was going out to get a training run to prepare for that race,” Wik said. The accident occurred less than 3 miles from the LaVallee home, the coach said.
LaVallee had no identification on him during Thursday’s run — a common occurrence with distance runners, the sheriff said.
“We figured somebody would be missing him,” Hagerty said. “We received a call [about 8 p.m.] from the family that he went for a run at noon and hadn’t returned.”
Hagerty and a member of his force went to the home to break the news to the LaVallees. The sheriff knew the father, Greg, who also grew up in nearby St. Michael.
“I know his parents, his brother, sister. That type of stuff,” the sheriff said.
Wik said that in five seasons coaching LaVallee he saw the young man “had the gift. He was just a natural. On top of that, a great work ethic, great family and very competitive.
“He always strove to get better; just your dream athlete.”
LaVallee left Monticello as the school’s premier distance runner. He tops its all-time cross-country honor roll and holds the school’s best time in the 800 meters and the 1,600 meters. He earned all-state honors in cross-country in 2011. In track in 2012, he was all-state in the 800 and on the 3,200-meter relay team.
LaVallee also excelled in the classroom at Monticello and at college in Brookings, scoring a grade-point average above 3.6 for a spot on the Summit League’s Distinguished Scholar list, Jackrabbits sports information director Jason Hove said.
Hove said LaVallee’s coach, Rod DeHaven, was “very distraught over what’s happened.”
LaVallee finished 15th last season in the league cross-country meet in helping SDSU claim the team title for the third time in four years, and “we were expecting him to be a key contributor this fall,” Hove added.
SDSU Athletic Director Justin Sell said LaVallee, a civil engineering major, “was a model student-athlete and a great teammate to everyone in our cross-country and track and field programs. He loved being a Jackrabbit.”