An 18-year-old Mankato East graduate was killed after being struck by a vehicle during a series of accidents on an icy stretch of Interstate 94 near Dalton on Sunday.
Dustin Lemke was in a vehicle with two other former East students - Tacy Masters and Savanny By. When their vehicle entered the ditch near the Dalton exit, Lemke and By exited the vehicle and walked toward the road to see if they could verify their location to call for help.
While walking in the median, the State Patrol said Lemke and By were struck by a 1998 Jeep that had lost control on the ice.
Lemke was airlifted to a hospital in Fargo and died a short time later. By was taken to a hospital in Fergus Falls with “non-life threatening injuries,” although his condition report was not available on Monday. Masters, who apparently did not leave the vehicle, was not injured.
The driver of the Jeep — Katy Steidl, 22, of Alexandria — also suffered no injuries.
The news struck a tragic chord at Mankato East High School and East Junior High where — despite the early release due to weather — students, staff and even alumni gathered to console each other.
Shane Baier, high school principal, said the school would be offering counseling services to students throughout the week.
“The hardest part is addressing all the grief,” Baier said. “It’s a sad day.”
Lemke attended both junior and senior high at Mankato East before graduating in 2009.
Katie Ojanpa, a counselor at East, said Lemke was a National Honor Student whose strong character and sense of humor endeared him to both staff and students.
He was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and baseball. In 2009, he was a regional finalist for the Minnesota State High School League’s Triple-A award, which is given to students who demonstrate excellence in academics, arts and athletics. He was attending North Dakota State University.
According to the bio he submitted for the award banquet, his grade-point average was 3.869 and he was involved in band, choir and orchestra. The bio also included a quote from Lemke that included these lines:
“I have been given the opportunity to succeed and fail, been pushed to do more than I thought I could, and challenged to grow as a leader. ... My high school activities have also taught me the importance of being a balanced, well-rounded person who doesn’t solely focus on my own goals but tries to help others become better.”
In a news report from the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, Dalton Fire Chief Eric Mounts said several more accidents followed the one which claimed Lemke’s life, including another vehicle that swerved to avoid a pedestrian and struck a guard rail, ejecting a juvenile passenger.