Music, memories live on seven years after Chi-Hi bus crash

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) – Seven years have passed since a crash silenced the sounds of a marching band. But today, the music and the memories continue to live on in Chippewa Falls.

The community has been marching forward since October 16th, 2005, the day when Chippewa Falls High School was changed forever.

Five people connected to the Chi-Hi marching band were killed when the bus they were riding crashed on its way back from a statewide competition, into an overturn semi on I-94 near Osseo.

Beloved band director Doug Greenhalgh, his wife Theres and the couple’s 11-year-old granddaughter died that day.

The bus driver Paul Rasmus and student teacher Branden Atherton were also killed. Dozens others were injured.

The tragedy may be a distant memory, but for those involved, they remember it like it was yesterday.

“I’m definitely aware of the date, when it’s coming at least a month in advance, as the marching band at the high school kicks into gear,” says Brian Collicott. He was the assistant band director at Chi-Hi when bus number one of four crashed.

“I think about the travel, I think about the bussing, the kids,” he says.

Collicott was in the front row of the bus which was completely smashed in.

“I think back to where I was you know this time seven years ago at Mayo, not sure what was happening entirely with my own body but long recovery. Am I free of issues? Absolutely not. Are something’s better? Of course they are,” says Collicott.

Now seven years later, Collicott is the Chippewa Falls middle school teacher. He’s moved on a little bit at a time. He’s now a father, with a 5-year-old daughter and another baby on the way.

Many of his students though were much too young to remember that fateful day.

“I just told the band briefly today about the incident just so they knew about the history behind the program as they moved forward and it was never forgotten that this happened and one young lady came up to me and asked is that why the pictures are on the wall downtown? And I said yeah that’s why it’s on the wall downtown,” says Collicott.

Raji Alowairdi was a WEAU newscast director when the crash happened. He’s also a Chi-Hi band alumnus-turned-staff-member and was on that very bus.

Today, we’re thankful he still directs our newscasts as a senior director.

“I guess you kind of reflect back on the people that we lost and the memories start kind of flooding back. It’s not like we forgot about these people because I think about them on a constant basis and it just really takes you back, it all kind of rushes back,” says Alowairdi.

He says he’s grown since the crash and has learned the community is full of support.

“You just kind of take it on a chin and move forward and that’s all you can really do. You’ve got to pick up the pieces and keep moving,” he says.

This past weekend, the current Chi-Hi marching band had its statewide competition and proudly won 4th place.

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