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Girl dies after crash while learning snowmobile safety

A 13-year-old Osceola girl died at Regions Hospital in St. Paul Sunday, a day after suffering injuries when a snow machine she was riding as part of a snowmobile safety class struck a wall in the Osceola High School parking lot Saturday morning.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials identified the girl as Sarah Thorsland.

She received immediate medical attention on the scene and was later airlifted to Regions where she died Sunday afternoon.

Conservation Warden Todd Schaller, also the chief of the bureau’s Recreation Education and Enforcement Section, said she was among 42 students participating in Saturday's session and was the 20th to drive the training snowmobile -- modified for dry ground by replacing skis with wheels -- around a slow-speed course in the parking lot.

She was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, Schaller said.

The department offered its sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased student and to the other students and their families present at Saturday's class.

“Our thoughts are with the loved ones today. We are committed to determine how and why this tragic loss of this life occurred," said Schaller.

“Safety is our highest priority. Our DNR safety classes are designed to provide operators with the skills to safely operate recreational vehicles to enjoy Wisconsin’s outdoors. The classes are taught by trained, certified and dedicated volunteers. We do not take Saturday’s tragic loss of Sarah lightly in any way.”

The Snowmobile Safety Program began in 1972 and has 879 instructors who are trained and certified to teach by the DNR. Last year, 7,799 people completed similar courses statewide.

Saturday's accident is believed to be the first serious crash or fatality to occur during any DNR safety class, Schaller said

The class is required in order for anyone born after Jan. 1st, 1985, to operate a snowmobile. There is minimum age for participation but Schaller said youths must be at least 12 to operate a snowmobile.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.