As a member of the volunteer fire department in the tiny northwestern Minnesota town of Ada, Randy Peterson has a routine when his pager goes off. He checks to see if his kids are at home.
At 10 p.m. Sunday, when he was called to a two-vehicle crash with one car on fire in the neighboring town of Borup, Peterson had a sinking feeling. He knew his 16-year-old son, Carter, was not home.
Carter had dropped off his girlfriend in Hawley earlier that night and was headed home on Hwy. 9 when he was broadsided by a driver who allegedly ran a stop sign at the intersection of Hwy. 9 and County Road 39. The impact sent the teen’s Dodge Avenger into the ditch, where it rolled over and caught fire.
Carter died at the scene.
As Peterson raced to the scene, he called and called his son’s cellphone, but got no answer. Minutes later, he learned why.
“Seeing the car on fire and the rims, I knew [it was my son],” Peterson said in an interview on Thursday. “I dropped to my knees. I was a mess. Another member of the crew just held me.”
It was not unusual for Carter to be have been on the rural Norman County highway on a Sunday night. Along with football, his girlfriend, Sarah Hanna, was his world, and that led to many trips between two small towns 40 miles apart.
“Carter was probably the most cautious driver — two hands on the wheel, and he never sped,” his father said. “He did nothing wrong.”
An initial State Patrol accident report indicated that it was Carter who had been traveling west on County Road 39 and crossed in front of a Dodge Ram traveling on Hwy. 9. On Tuesday, the patrol amended its report to indicate that it was the pickup truck that crossed into Carter’s path, striking his vehicle on the driver’s side.
The pickup’s driver, Ethan Stensgard, 20, of Enderlin, N.D., was not seriously hurt. Alcohol was detected in his system, the patrol said.
Carter was a junior at Ada-Borup High School, where he played basketball, threw discus and shot put for the track team and played offensive guard and defensive tackle on the football team.
“He loved sports. He was a walking encyclopedia when it came to sports,” his father said. “He had one of those infectious smiles and a genuine laugh and chuckle. He was always a happy person.”
As news of Carter’s death spread, the community has rallied together to support Carter’s family, which includes his mother, Chasity; his brother Matthew, 21, and his sister, Emma, 10.
Before Ada-Borup’s 45-0 football win over Cass Lake-Bena on Wednesday, the tribal school performed a drum chant, and each opposing player gave Carter’s family members a hug and presented them with wild rice, a symbol of hope. Players from Carter’s Cougar football team presented the family with flowers, photographs and his No. 63 jersey, which the school retired.
“The community support has been outstanding,” Randy Peterson said. “That is one thing about small towns. They definitely rally together.”
Carter’s funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Grace Lutheran Church in Ada. He will be buried in Duane Cemetery in Mahnomen County.