Oregon has its share of small towns connected by winding rural highways. These towns have 115-student school districts, and, while the kids may not know each other well, when one of them leaves, the absence is felt. Last week a small town outside of Oregon lost five students in an accident that no one can explain.

The five kids were part of a family of 14. A sheriff’s deputy and his wife had started a group home in 2007. They were foster parents to kids ages 3 to 17; they had even adopted two of their young charges.

The morning of the accident, the deputy was driving the kids to school in the family van. Police say the weather was fine, and the wind was calm. The highway, a favorite route for truckers, was being repaired, so the speed limit on that stretch had been reduced from the usual 65 mph.

About 20 minutes after sunrise, the van skidded and smashed into a cattle trailer. The crash killed the deputy and five of the children, including the two who had been adopted.

The other seven kids were injured, some seriously. According to the hospital, their conditions varied from serious to fair. One has been released so far — the child who was wearing a seatbelt. The driver of the cattle truck was released as well.

What puzzles investigators is that there were only 26 feet of skid marks. Investigators say the deputy was not on the phone and had not been drinking or using drugs. There may have been some kind of distraction inside or outside of the van. One officer said they could really only guess what happened, but speed would probably be “the main factor.”

The involvement of foster children means that the state’s human services department will conduct its own investigation. Foster kids are essentially wards of the state; the department is responsible for their safety and security.

The driver was 57 at the time of his death. His adopted children were both age 10; their foster brothers were 11, 13 and 17.

Source: Oregonlive.com, “Cellphone use ruled out in CO crash that killed 6,” Oct. 15, 2011