Questions Remain In Epworth Fatalities

By Lee Hermiston, The Gazette

EPWORTH, Iowa — Many questions remain in the deaths of four teens killed in a crash Saturday in Dubuque County.

When those questions will be answered and whether charges will be filed against the man who hit the teens remained unknown Monday.

“It could take a little while,” said Dale Snyder, a captain with the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office and firefighter with the Epworth Fire Department. “It’s one of those things where this is such a unique case.”

Epworth Fire was the first department to respond to the call. One of the four boys killed was the son of an Epworth Fire Department lieutenant.

The fatal crash happened just after 1:30 p.m. Saturday near the intersection of East Pleasant Grove and Hartbecke roads near Epworth. Four 14-year-old boys — Bryce Wilbert of Epworth, Sean Kenneally of Peosta, Mitchell Kluesner of Epworth and Nicholas Kramer of Dyersville — were operating a John Deere Gator — a small, utility vehicle — when they were hit by a truck driven by 24-year-old Joseph Connolly, of Holy Cross. Connolly ran a stop sign when he hit the teens, police said.

Snyder said when first responders arrived on the scene, the Gator was on fire. Three of the teens were pronounced dead at the scene; the fourth died at an area hospital.

One question authorities still need to answer is what the teens were doing in the Gator, where they were going and where they were coming from. That will determine whether the Gator was being legally operated on the road, Snyder said.

“That’s the thing we have to do the research on,” Snyder said. “We’re going to try to meet with the families today to figure out what the kids were doing. There are a lot of questions we have to get answers on today that we didn’t want to press the families on.”

The Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office is also working with the county attorney’s office to determine whether charges beyond the stop sign violation will be filed against Connolly. Snyder would not say whether Connolly was given a breath test at the scene of the crash.

“Mr. Connolly is under further investigation based on some things,” Snyder said. “It’s under investigation. We’re waiting on some things before we make any decisions on any charges.”

Making the case even more difficult is how close to home it is hitting for authorities. Epworth Fire Chief Thomas Berger wrote on the department’s website that Kluesner — son of Lt. Todd Kluesner — used to hang out at the fire station and hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps one day.

“It’s hard,” Snyder said. “You lost four young lives that were going to affect their communities. I’m on the fire department with them. It’s not easy.”

While the Epworth Fire Department has mutual aid agreements with other area fire departments, Snyder said the volunteer organization will still respond to calls, even as they continue to cope with the tragedy.

“If we need help, we’re going to call for help and they’re going to come,” Snyder said.

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