The 16-year-old driver was doing everything right as he headed for school on the foggy west-central Minnesota road before sunrise Thursday.
His seat belt and car lights were on. His cellphone was in his pocket.
But when a semitrailer truck crossed the centerline on Hwy. 210 in Vining, Jacob Quam had no room to move. The semi barreled into Quam’s car, killing the Henning High School sophomore and throwing the community, where everyone seems to know one another, into deep mourning.
“The first people on the scene knew him,” Henning schools Principal Thomas Williams said Friday.
The news spread quickly, and so did the pain, said high school basketball coach Randy Misegades.
“We don’t have any answers,” he said. “We don’t know why. Why him?”
It’s the kind of tragedy a person reads about happening to another family, in another community, he said. “You feel bad and you take a deep breath when you know it’s not one of yours.”
About 6 a.m. Thursday, Quam left his home in Vining, a town of about 80 people, to work out in the weight room at his high school in Henning, a town of about 800. It was the kind of extra effort typical of Quam, who was always striving to be better on the basketball court, the football field and in the classroom, Misegades said.
As the teen drove east on Hwy. 210, the semitrailer truck appeared in his lane.
“Jacob tried to swerve,” said Jill Doll, Quam’s aunt. “But he didn’t have enough room. He didn’t have enough time.”
According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the semi had crossed the centerline. Its driver, Jason Rudolf Vadner, 34, of Wheaton, Minn., suffered noncritical injuries. He couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
The State Patrol is investigating.
“Jacob didn’t do anything wrong,” Doll said. “He was wearing his seat belt. His cellphone was in his pocket. Jacob was not distracted. Jacob’s lights were on. Jacob was doing what he was supposed to do. He always did what he was supposed to do, and that’s what he was doing that day.”
‘He was selfless’
Quam was an honor student, an overachiever, a dedicated athlete.
Even before teachers and students received official news about the crash, word was spreading quickly on social media in a community where 400 K-12 students are schooled in one building.
Now the sophomore class of just 37 students has lost one of its own.
“Kids were feeling emotions they never felt before,” Principal Williams said.
School stayed open Thursday, but students were free to leave, with parental permission. Most students hung around the building anyway; some played basketball in the gym.
“They knew that’s what he would want to do,” Misegades said. “They just wanted to be with one another.”
“He was an all-American kid,” Williams said. “He had a strong character. He was the kid you wanted leading other kids in the building.”
Quam was the kid who made the special-needs student feel good about himself, Misegades said. And like a lot of the basketball players, he was like a big brother to the coach’s three elementary school-age sons, who came to practice every day.
“They’re crushed by it, like everyone else,” Misegades said.
“I know as a coach I’m not supposed to have favorites, but man, it was hard not to have him be your favorite,” he said.
Quam worked hard and always did what was asked of him, “never rolling his eyes,” Misegades said. “He just did it. He was selfless. … He was the biggest cheerleader for someone else. He didn’t need the glory himself.”
Quam didn’t talk about what he wanted to do in life, Misegades said. At 16, life is still all about possibilities.
“But no matter what he wanted to do in his life, he would have been successful,” he said.