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Report reveals details of accident that injured school bus driver

Cheryl Moilanen is well-liked by the students she brought to school before being injured in a Feb. 5 accident, according to her husband, John. Submitted photo1 / 2
The spot on the pavement (to the right of the light pole and the posts protecting it) is about where Cheryl Moilanen was walking when she was hit by a vehicle, according to a St. Croix County Sheriff's Department accident report. Photo by Randy Hanson2 / 2

A St. Croix County Sheriff's Department accident report sheds more light on a Feb. 5 vehicle-pedestrian accident that left a Hudson school bus driver severely injured.

Cheryl J. Moilanen was walking along the south side of the Ryan Drive access to MR Convenience when she was struck by an SUV driven by Ann M. Pierce, 44, of River Falls, a diagram of the accident indicates.

Moilanen's school bus and two other buses were parked on the east side of Ryan Drive, facing north, when the accident happened at 7:45 a.m.

The 57-year-old Moilanen had stopped at the town of Hudson gas station and convenience store for a break between her morning routes and was returning to her bus when she was struck by the vehicle.

Moilanen remained in a coma at Regions Hospital as of Monday morning, according to her husband, John.

"Her condition is still seriously grave," John Moilanen said.

Since being airlifted to the St. Paul hospital, Moilanen has undergone surgery to relieve pressure from the swelling of her brain.

She also had surgery to repair a broken ankle that involved attaching a metal plate to the bone. A filter was inserted in a vein in her chest to prevent any blood clots from reaching her heart.

She'll need more surgery in the future to repair a damaged knee, according to the journal on her Web site.

To access the journal and guestbook on her CaringBridge site, type "cherylmoilanen" into the search engine.

The report on the Feb. 5 accident was completed by St. Croix County Sheriff's Deputy Marc Sommers.

Sommers interviewed Pierce and two witnesses to the accident in his investigation. His report contains written statements from each of them.

Pierce told the sheriff's deputy that she had dropped off her 16-month-old daughter at the nearby YMCA daycare on Exchange Drive, and was stopping at MR Convenience to purchase gas before continuing on to her job in St. Paul.

According to the report, Pierce said the bus farthest to the south was parked on the paved portion of Ryan Drive. She was concerned that someone might walk out in front of her vehicle from between the buses, she said, and looked that direction before turning into MR Convenience.

"There were three buses lined up on the right hand side of the road. I pulled around those and then turned left into the driveway," Pierce said in her written statement. "Once I hit her, I stopped, got out to see if she was OK. I ran back to my car and got my cell phone to call 911. I waited for the police along with another witness."

Pierce told Sommers that she hadn't been talking on her cell phone. She guessed she was going 10 to 15 mph when she hit Moilanen.

MR Convenience employee Anthony Miller, 22, of Hudson said in his written statement that Moilanen was standing by a light pole on the south side of the gas station access when she was hit by Pierce's Honda CRV.

Moilanen was walking or standing on the side of the access that vehicles exiting the gas station would use, according to a diagram of the accident scene that is part of the report.

Miller, who watched the accident from inside the store, said the collision spun Moilanen around and that she landed hard on the pavement on her back and head. Her head appeared to bounce off the pavement, he said.

Timothy J. Knops, 45, of Hudson was driving south on Ryan Drive when he witnessed the accident. Knops estimated the speed of Pierce's vehicle at 15 mph.

Sommers reported that Pierce didn't appear to be under the influence of alcohol or a drug, but that she voluntarily agreed to a blood test at River Falls Area Hospital. She reportedly told Sommers that she doesn't drink alcohol.

She was not cited for a traffic violation.

Husband talks

John Moilanen said that he and members of Cheryl's family have been at Regions Hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week since she was taken there.

"Special. Outstanding," he replied when asked to describe his wife. "She's the rock of the family ... She's very inspirational," he said.

Moilanen is in her first year of driving for Safeway Bus Co., the private company contracted to transport students in the Hudson School District.

John Moilanen said the students she brings to school (the middle and high schools, Hudson Prairie Elementary and St. Patrick School) have come to appreciate her in the short time they have known her.

"The children on her bus routes absolutely love her," he said. "She sings with them and they sing along with her. For those who are a little more distant from her, she told me that by the end of the school year she would have them warmed up to her."

The Moilanens, married for 31 years, moved to their home in the town of Hudson in 2001.

John Moilanen is retired from the former Gillette Co. factory in St. Paul. He has two children from a previous marriage.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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