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Albrecht inauguration postponed by USU

Flowers placed near a tractor parked on the USU campus honor the memory of eight students and an instructor who lost their lives.
Flowers placed near a tractor parked on the USU campus honor the memory of eight students and an instructor who lost their lives.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

LOGAN — Utah State University has postponed inauguration ceremonies planned next week for President Stan L. Albrecht as the campus continues to mourn eight students and one instructor killed Monday in a van rollover.

A stream of somber students signed posters for the victims' families Wednesday and left flowers on an old orange tractor parked on the college quad.

Tractors, typically adorned with signs announcing events such as mud football, have become a tradition on campus during the university's fall Ag Week.

The tractors were driven onto campus Monday morning by students in the school's agricultural machinery technology program, right before they boarded a van for a field trip to look at agricultural equipment in Tremonton.

The van rolled off I-84 Monday afternoon.

All Ag Week events have been canceled, along with next week's inaugural dinner and ceremony, and the ribbon-cutting for the university's new library.

"The inauguration was to be a time of celebration for the university, and in light of the circumstances, we feel that a celebration of this magnitude would be inappropriate," Albrecht said. "Our focus over the next few weeks will be on the families and friends of our students who have been devastated by this tragedy."

Most of the men killed in Monday's accident were members of the school's Ag Tech Club, which last year toured the Midwest to look at John Deere and Caterpillar farm machinery plants, putting 3,000 miles on the same van involved in Monday's rollover, instructor Scott Wangsgard said.

"The van was in great shape, and (Evan) Parker was a great driver," Wangsgard said. "Nobody was at fault. It just happened. It was just a freak accident."

Across campus from the tractor memorial on the quad, other tractors in various stages of disassembly sit in the Agricultural Systems Technology and Education building.

University interim Provost Noelle Crockett, who is also dean of the College of Agriculture, says she's been thinking about those tractors since Monday's fatal accident.

Student projects in the two-year ag tech program include taking apart tractors and then putting them back together again. "And we're not talking about garden tractors," Crockett said.

The ASTE department has been receiving calls from alumni who have offered to help reassemble the tractors, department head Bruce Miller said.

The close-knit, 20-student agricultural machinery technology program lost nearly all of its freshmen students in the accident, Miller said. Two other students, Jared Nelson of Logan and Robert Petersen of Elwood, Box Elder County, were injured in the rollover and remain hospitalized.

"These kids know how to work," Wangsgard said of the ag tech students. "If some stranger or engineer came in and tried to accomplish what these guys did in a semester, I don't think they could do it. I don't think they'd have the work ethic these guys were raised with."

As someone wrote on a poster Wednesday, "We lost a few young dedicated farmers at this time when we need them the most."