A 13-year-old girl taking a snowmobile safety class was killed after her sled crashed in western Wisconsin.
"It's devastating," said Osceola Police Chief Tim Lauridsen. "We're still trying to understand it."
Police said Sarah Thorsland was taking a class taught by volunteers from a local snowmobile club on Saturday morning when the machine suddenly accelerated and went straight down a loading, traveling between 50 and 75 feet before colliding with a concrete wall.
Thorsland's mother, a nurse at Osceola hospital, was among the first on the scene.
"She was immediately by her daughter's side, acted professionally, was able to give instruction to other people on getting her ready, to assist in getting her ready to be transported," Lauridsen said. "It's amazing to me because if it was my child, I'm not sure I would be able to act that way, and I've been in this business a long time."
According to police, Thorsland had been navigating a pattern of traffic cones after completing a pre-ride safety check when the machine accelerated. The front of the snowmobile had wheels on the skis supplied by the sled's manufacturer to create a semblance of snowy terrain, the Star Tribune reported.
Thorsland was airlifted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul and then brought to Gillette Children's in critical condition, where she was put on life support and later passed away.
Police said she was wearing a helmet, and had been taking part in a certificate course in the high school parking lot to be able to ride the machines alone.
The sled has been stored to investigate the cause of the acceleration.
"We really don't' know what caused the acceleration," Lauridsen said. "We really don't believe it was anything but operator error or use of the throttle at this time."
The course, which is offered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in conjunction with Osceola Community Education is run by certified volunteers. Saturday's teacher had 21 years of experience.
The DNR told Fox 9 News their course has been around since 1972 and had never had an accident, let alone a death, in its history prior to last weekend.
"It's all about safety, and I don't think you can do it any better than what they did," Lauridsen said.
A Facebook page dedicated to Thorsland described her as beautiful, and loved ones say the teen who loved to dance is now flying in the clouds.
"It's tough," Lauridsen said. "A lot of kids involved -- there were 42 kids here in this class. Some already left, but most were still here and that's going to affect these kids for a long time."
STATEMENT FROM OSCEOLA SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Osceola School District and community suffered a tragic loss on October 27, when Sarah Thorsland, an Osceola Middle School student, passed away. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Osceola School District and community go out to the family.
She was a wonderful young lady who loved to dance. Her smile could light up a room. She will be greatly missed by the entire Osceola School District, especially her close friends and teachers.
The Osceola Middle School staff will provide grief counselors at the school to help students, family and friends deal with their thoughts and feelings associated with the loss.
Superintendent of Schools