Firefighters work inside a classroom after minivan veered off a road and plowed into a school St. Paul, Alberta, about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Edmonton, Alberta October 25, 2012.
Credits: COURTESY ST. PAUL JOUNAL
EDMONTON -- An 11-year-old girl has died in hospital and a man has been charged with dangerous driving after a minivan crashed into a St. Paul, Alta., school, injuring seven other students.
"She was a kind, gentle and sweet girl," said Shauna Burke about 11-year-old Megan Wolitski, who residents have identified as the girl who died in hospital Friday.
Burke says she coached Wolitski for the community's swimming team, and Wolitski was also heavily involved in the town's girl guides program.
"(Her family) shouldn't feel alone," she said. "The whole community is supporting the family -- the people here care."
Roughly 1,000 people from the community of about 5,600 crowded in front of the Racette Junior High School in Friday night for a memorial vigil.
Burke was among hundreds of people who lit candles and placed stuffed teddy bears on the fence that leads up to the school entrance.
Three students -- including Wolitski -- were pinned under the vehicle and airlifted to hospitals in Edmonton in critical condition. One is now in stable condition, and the other still remains in critical condition.
Five other students were taken to a hospital in St. Paul, but have since been discharged.
Richard Edward Benson, 46, of St. Paul, is charged with four counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, one count of resisting arrest and one count of possession of marijuana.
Toxicology tests are underway and can take up to three months to process.
The driver received minor injuries and was taken into custody. Police said he resisted arrest.
Benson is set to appear in court Monday and will remain in custody until then.
Police said the crash happened about 9:30 a.m. Thursday when a man driving a minivan through a back alley drove off the road and into the side of the school, coming to a stop inside a Grade 6 French immersion class.
There were about 15 students inside the room.
"Everybody here is sending out their thoughts and prayers to those injured and their families," Mayor Glenn Andersen said Friday.
St. Paul Education Supt. Glen Brodziak said classes at Racette will be cancelled on Monday.
Classes were also cancelled on Friday, and counsellors were on hand at nearby St. Paul Regional High School to offer comfort to anyone traumatized by the crash, Brodziak said.
The mayor of the small town says the tragedy has had an impact in his community "where everybody knows everybody."
"All I can do is advise them to work through this together and help one another," he said.
"It's a tragic thing, and I have no doubt we will come together to support these families."
Brodziak attended Friday's vigil along with the mayor.
"People wanted to show their concern and come together in some way," he said.