Saturday started out as a great day for Superior athletes. The girls’ team won its District 6-B tournament consolation game, defeating Valley Christian 29-27 in the final four seconds. Members of the boys’ team, which lost its game Friday night, traveled to Hamilton to cheer them on.
By 5 in the afternoon, everybody was caravaning home, heading north on U.S. Highway 93.
Aaron Morse, recently cleared to play basketball again after cancer surgery, drove his parents’ Ford Explorer. Basketball players Aaron Lowman, Billy Smith, Daylon Kuhl and Adam Kay, and wrestler Mackenzie “Spud” Crabb, were in the vehicle with him. Cheryl Crabb and Patty Morse were in another car about 20 minutes behind their sons.
It got cold. The roads iced up. Patty Morse was driving. Her car slipped and slid. They got a message to the boys: Go slow.
We’re taking it easy, Spud Crabb responded, only going about 40 to 50 mph. Minutes after that call, Morse’s cell phone rang. Because she was driving, she handed it to Cheryl Crabb.
“They were just all screaming,” Cheyrl Crabb said. “’You gotta help us! You gotta help us get out!’” Then the phone went dead.
She thought the boys were goofing around.
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At about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, a black Chevy truck traveling south in the passing lane on 93 at mile marker 78.7 between Lolo and Florence hit ice and began to spin into the opposite lanes, according to Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Paul Pfau.
“The truck was going too fast and lost control on the icy roads,” Pfau said. “It went broadside in front of the northbound Explorer.”
Aaron Morse, driving north in the right lane, saw the truck coming toward him.
“I was doing everything I could,” he told his mother, weeping. “All I knew was I had to swerve enough so the kids wouldn’t get hurt” in a head-on collision.
The woman in the pickup was wearing her seat belt, and her 9 1/2-month-old child was strapped into a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, Pfau said. But the woman’s husband wasn’t wearing his seat belt and went into the windshield, breaking it. Five of the six boys were wearing their seat belts, he said.
University of Montana police officer Tim Goodpasture, on his way to work, saw the crash and stopped, Pfau said. So did a couple from Valley Christian.
Here and there amid the wreckage, cell phones began to sound — the boys’ parents, trying to reach them.
Meanwhile, Cheryl Crabb’s car was crawling toward the scene.
“All I wanted to do was punch the gas,” she said, “but I couldn’t.”
When they finally arrived, she and Patty Morse leapt from the car “and took off running” toward the wreck, only to be stopped by an officer.
“He said, ‘They’re OK, they’re OK,’” Patty Morse said. “I said, ‘They’re not OK until we see them.’ And then Cheryl and I took off again.”
One of the boys was wielding quite a vocabulary against the pain when the moms arrived.
“Then he’s saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Cheryl, I’m sorry,’ ” Crabb said. You go ahead and swear, she told him.
Because of Aaron Morse’s history with cancer and chemotherapy, rescue crews took him to St. Patrick Hospital, along with the pickup driver’s husband. The 19-year-old Morse, who is repeating his senior year because he missed so much time to cancer treatment last year, suffered bruised kneecaps in the crash and was expected to be home Sunday night, his mother said. Pfau said the pickup driver’s husband had a broken leg and cuts on his face.
The other boys went to Community Medical Center.
In Superior, parents and friends ran from their homes and ventured out into the icy evening.
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“The roads were horrible,” said Janet Smith, Billy’s mother. “I saw an accident right up in front of me — I had to go up onto the guardrail.”
Then she got to Community.
“Wow,” she said. “that emergency room was a mess. ... There were a lot of upset people. It was pretty stressful in there. I give a lot of credit to those ER nurses and the doctor. They were just stellar in calming people down and talking to the kids.”
Billy Smith has a broken tibia and a leg wound that went all the way to the bone, she said. He was expected to be home by Sunday night.
The couple from Valley Christian who’d called police showed up at the emergency room, checking to make sure all of the boys were all right.
“It was their anniversary,” Janet Smith said. “I wish had gotten their names.”
Aaron Lowman, 17, who was in the front seat with Aaron Morse, had to be removed from the wreck with the Jaws of Life, Pfau said. Aaron Lowman broke his wrist, said his mother, Carol.
“Everybody’s alive. They’ve got bumps and bangs and things that can be stitched up,” she said.
Aaron Lowman got back to Superior about 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
“I was driving like a granny,” his mother said.
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Spud Crabb, 17, also got home early Sunday.
“He’s pretty sore,” his mom said, “mostly from the seat belt.”
Adam Kay also was released from the hospital, Patty Morse said, while Daylon Kuhl was kept for more observation.
Neither of their families could be reached for more detail.
Elizabeth Hyde of Stevensville, who was driving the truck, was cited for careless driving. Pfau said a witness reported the pickup was traveling at about 67 mph, “too fast for road conditions. ... She admitted she was driving way too fast.”
Meanwhile, all around Superior, people spent Sunday on their phones, trying to get more information.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Nicole Stroot, 16, a sophomore guard on the girls’ basketball team.
It was bittersweet, she said. “We were so excited from winning the game with four seconds left, and then to come home and hear about that. They wouldn’t have been there if they weren’t supporting us.”
The girls’ next game is Wednesday at the Western B Divisional at Pablo. Team members are considering inking the team numbers of the injured boys onto their arms for that game, Stroot said.
Carol Lowman keeps reminding herself and everyone around her of the key thing.
“Everybody’s alive,” she said. “There were bumps and bangs. Things that can be fixed up. None of them perished.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.