The final report on a crash near Huntley that killed a North Dakota family of four on Thanksgiving Day is likely weeks away, according to a Montana Highway Patrol trooper assigned to the investigation.
The victims — Anthony Dean, Chelsi Dean, both 25, and their two young daughters — were traveling from Billings towards Ekalaka to spend Thanksgiving with relatives. The family was traveling in a dark blue 2017 Toyota 4Runner that was towing another vehicle on a trailer.
Based on information released last weekend by MHP, it appears the SUV went off I-94 just east of the Huntley exit and crashed into Pryor Creek at about 7 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.
"We're still pretty early on in our investigation of it," said Trooper Aaron Freivalds speaking by phone Wednesday. "It's been busy but this investigation is proceeding at our regular speed."
MHP typically tries to conclude investigations within a month to a month-and-a-half, Freivalds said.
Freivalds said he and another MHP trooper assigned to the investigation are wrapping up evidence collection.
No other agencies are assisting in the investigation, the trooper said.
Describing the crash, Freivalds said it appears the SUV had swerved to the left to avoid hitting a guardrail end, went into the median, continued through the median and vaulted off an embankment. The vehicle went airborne, struck a bridge support and landed in the creek.
"That had happened Thursday morning, and due to where it had landed it wasn't visible from the road and there were no indications at the road or median, that showed a crash had happened in that location," Freivalds said, adding that the vehicle was discovered after law enforcement pinged a cell phone location.
Montana law enforcement began searching for the family after Anthony Dean's mother, Leslie Dean-Webb, posted on her personal Facebook page concerned that she had not heard from her son and his family since they were set to depart Billings for Ekalaka Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. Dean-Webb, a Caldwell, Idaho, resident, also spoke with Boise, Idaho TV station KIVI. Postings from Dean-Webb, concerned Facebook users and other media outlets were shared thousands of times Friday as the story began to grab increasing attention across the region and beyond.
MHP discovered the crash at about 8 p.m. Nov. 23. Anthony James Dean was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force with the 69th Maintenance Squadron at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota where he was an RQ-4 Global Hawk crew chief. Chelsi Dean was a member of the Manvel Volunteer Fire Department in North Dakota. Both were originally from Caldwell, Idaho and were living in Manvel, North Dakota with their daughters 5-year-old Kaytlin Merie Dean and 20-month-old Avri James Dean.