The shock of losing two beloved Lakeville South students on their way home for the weekend — two years to the date after a crash killed another local student — brought a community together Saturday as it steeled itself for the grieving process that awaits.
By early Saturday, #LakevilleStrong became one of the Twin Cities metro area's top trending topics on Twitter as posts mourning the deaths of Lakeville South students Johnny Price, 18, and Jacob "Jake" Flynn, 17, poured in.
The teenagers died after being ejected from a pickup truck just before 3 p.m. Friday in a rollover crash at 225th Street west of Dodd Boulevard. The truck's driver, Alexander Hughes, 17, and a passenger, Mason Kohlbeck, 18, survived. A Hennepin County Medical Center spokeswoman said Saturday that Hughes was still in critical condition.
The Dakota County Sheriff's Office is still investigating and tweeted Saturday that it was working to verify the validity of details circulating about the crash, asking anyone with information to call 651-438-4721.
Mike Arlt, a Lakeville South assistant baseball and football coach, said Kohlbeck had been released from the hospital and met with classmates at the baseball field Saturday.
"All things considered, he looked pretty good and was moving around fine. I'm sure there's lot weighing on his mind," Arlt said. "Obviously most of us have not been put in this kind of position before where we're surviving something so tragic. He's just going to need some support."
The crash came on the anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Lakeville North student Alyssa Ettl in a 2013 crash on her way to school.
"Many of the students grieving today are the same ones who were grieving two years ago after Alyssa Ettl's accident," said Jarrett Sommers, a Lakeville South chemistry teacher.
As details of Friday's crash circulated, students and staff filled the Lakeville South auditorium, where they consoled one another through the evening, district spokeswoman Amy Olson said.
She said local businesses supplied pizzas, snacks, water and tissues. Weekend activities were canceled, and the school will continue to offer counseling. "We know that this is not a short-term thing," Olson said.
Sommers said he taught Price and Flynn in separate honors chemistry classes last year. He remembered Price for his ability to command the class with his personality and sense of humor. His commitment to jokes approached that of a professional comedian, Sommers said. Like when he spent an entire lecture writing squiggly lines on his paper instead of actual notes.
"He was so committed to this joke that no one would have seen if I hadn't caught it," Sommers said. "When I asked him why he would invest the same amount of time writing nonsense instead of actual notes, he had no reason — just thought it would be funny. I agreed."
Sommers said Flynn "was good at everything and made it seem effortless." He aced every chemistry test, to the point where Sommers jokingly jotted down sarcastic comments under his perfect scores pretending to be "put off by his brilliance."
Funeral arrangements are pending. Price is survived by his parents, John and Lisa, and a brother, Tommy. Flynn is survived by his parents, Kevin and Michelle, and siblings Jordan, Jolie and Jace.
Ettl's 2013 death prompted a study that recommended widening the narrow, hilly two-lane Dodd Boulevard, which passes by Lakeville North and also continues about a block east from Lakeville South. Lakeville resident Deb Sargent said she has urged city and county officials to widen Dodd and reduce its speed limit down from 55 mph, especially near neighborhoods.
"They have a two-lane highway here basically," Sargent said.