- Associated Press - Monday, August 4, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Several small eastern Iowa farming communities are struggling with the deaths of four teenage boys who were just weeks away from starting ninth grade together when a pickup truck collided over the weekend with the utility vehicle they were in, killing them all.

Drexler Middle School Principal Mary Jane Maher said the communities of Epworth, Peosta and Dyersville were in disbelief at the loss of Sean Kenneally, Mitchell Kluesner, Nicholas Kramer and Bryce Wilwert. All were 14, known as athletes when they attended Drexler and preparing to begin their freshman year at Western Dubuque High School.

“They were four fantastic young gentlemen. All of them highly involved in school, not only athletics but involved in school in as many ways as could be,” Maher said. “They were the kind of kids that you love to have in class, always bringing something to the classroom to make people smile. Just four really good kids from four amazing families.”

They died Saturday afternoon when the pickup hauling a horse trailer didn’t stop at a stop sign at the intersection of two country roads and hit a John Deere utility vehicle carrying the four teens. The boys were killed and two passengers in the pickup were injured, the Dubuque County Sheriff’s office said in a news release.

The 24-year-old pickup driver was uninjured. The sheriff’s office was continuing its investigation and hadn’t issued any citations. Capt. Dale Snyder told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that investigators returned to the crash site Monday as they tried to decide whether to recommend filing criminal charges.

The four boys were riding on a John Deere Gator, a four-wheeled utility vehicle often used on farms with two seats in front and a flatbed behind the seats for hauling. It’s not immediately clear where the boys were headed, but they may have been going to Wilwert’s farm, said Paul Cleary, the wrestling coach at Western Dubuque High School.

The utility vehicle isn’t licensed for road use in Iowa but can legally be operated on public roads if the use involves farm work. It also can be operated by someone as young as 14 for farming purposes, Dubuque County Sheriff Capt. Dale Snyder said.

Wilwert and Kluesner were from Epworth. Kenneally was from Peosta, and Kramer lived in Dyersville. The communities are only a few miles apart, about 190 miles northeast of Des Moines.

The Western Dubuque Community School District, Iowa’s largest by geographic area encompassing 555 square miles, is planning to make counselors available for families, Maher said.

The schools are on summer break, with classes scheduled to resume Aug. 18. Registration for students began Monday.

On Saturday morning, the boys had filled water balloons for use during the final day of Epworth’s annual three-day summer Town N’ Country Days festival. During the festival’s parade later Saturday morning, students on the wrestling team’s float gave water balloons to observers along the parade route who toss the balloons back at the wrestlers as they pass by, Cleary said. Kenneally, Kluesner and Wilwert were wrestlers but only Kenneally and Kluesner were on the float, Cleary said.

The Rev. Michael Schueller, of St. Elizabeth Pastorate in Epworth, said Sunday services were somber but typical of what happens in small, closely knit farming communities when people need support and help.

“These are small towns. The people are pretty resilient. They come together with families and friends in particular and especially in their faith,” he said.

A local restaurant has donated food for the funeral dinners for the families and caskets for the boys have been donated by Trappist Caskets, a business operated by Roman Catholic monks since 1849 at the New Melleray Abbey near Peosta.

___

Story Continues →