Heartbreak: Two die in Sunday accident

Heartbreak: Two die in Sunday accident by David Lias The celebration of the Vermillion Lady Tanagers' runner-up placing in the South Dakota Class A girls' basketball tournament was short lived.

Just a few hours after the Vermillion team placed second Saturday night in its first-ever appearance in the tournament held in Watertown, two area young people were killed in a single-vehicle traffic accident.

Dead are Laura Brunick, 18, Meckling, who was senior at Vermillion High School, and Justin Loen, 22, a 1997 Wakonda High School graduate who had recently moved to Vermillion.

According to Sgt. Jeff Van Gerpen, a spokesman at the Sioux Falls office of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the fatalities occurred when a 1997 Dodge pickup driven by Brunick left Interstate 29 approximately two miles south of Brookings.

The southbound vehicle entered the median and rolled.

A third passenger in the pickup, Amanda Taggart, Vermillion, wasn't seriously injured. She was sitting in the center of the pickup's seat, between Brunick and Loen, her fianc�.

The three young people were returning home from the state tournament. The accident happened at approximately 8 a.m. Sunday.

"The vehicle was southbound, and the driver apparently lost control after crossing a bridge that had ice on it," Van Gerpen said. "The vehicle slid sideways into the median and rolled."

The South Dakota Highway Patrol, a Brookings County deputy sheriff and an ambulance from the Brookings Hospital all responded to the accident scene.

Trooper Scott Knisley is investigating the accident. He is still in the process of gathering information, Van Gerpen said.

He added that, according to data collected by the Highway Patrol so far, no one in the vehicle was wearing seat belts. The pickup reportedly was traveling at approximately 75 miles per hour at the time of the accident.

It may take up to two weeks for the accident report to be complete, Van Gerpen said, noting that investigators are mandated by law to make tests to determine if alcohol may have contributed to the accident.

He added that officers don't believe alcohol was a factor.

Brunick was the daughter of Doug and Rena Brunick, Vermillion. Loen's parents are Jerry and Sharyl Loen, Wakonda. Taggart is the daughter of Chuck and Mary Taggart, Vermillion.

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