MOORHEAD — The father of two Moorhead boys killed in a crash on their way to a basketball tournament in Wisconsin in 2015 says the lawsuit his family brought against the boys' school and basketball coach was an effort to get answers about the accident, not money.
"We got some answers, we got a lot of things answered. But we had to pursue it," Ray Kvalvog said during an appearance on the Jay Thomas Show on WDAY Radio Monday, July 29.
It was Ray Kvalvog's first media interview since Friday's verdict in the wrongful death lawsuit involving the deaths of his sons, 18-year-old Zach and 14-year-old Connor.
Kvalvog said that after the crash, Park Christian School officials wouldn't open up about the incident, which prompted the family to take legal action.
"When the stories were so inconsistent and they said my son was at fault and I couldn't talk to any of the officials at the school, the only way I could talk was to sue them out," he said. "It's not anything I wanted to do."
The brothers died June 23, 2015, in a crash near Dalton, a town about 70 miles southeast of Fargo.
Zach Kvalvog was driving his brother and two teammates in the family's pickup truck to a basketball tournament in Wisconsin. The boys' teammates were injured in the crash but survived.
The pickup was part of a three-vehicle caravan that included a basketball coach driving alone in a car ahead of the pickup and an SUV in front that was driven by a parent and carried other players.
The crash happened when a semi the caravan was trying to pass crowded into the pickup truck's lane, causing Zach Kvalvog to swerve and overcorrect, resulting in his vehicle leaving the road and rolling over across the median before coming to rest in the westbound lanes of Interstate 94, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
The family sued the school and Josh Lee, the school's basketball coach at the time of the crash, for $82.9 million, a number that Ray Kvalvog said was intended to draw attention to the average speed the caravan was traveling on the interstate: about 82.9 mph.
Kvalvog told Thomas the amount of the requested award was also an attempt to address what his sons would likely have earned over the course of their working lives, as well as the lost years of support and care he and his wife, Kathie, will suffer because of the deaths of their sons.
Kvalvog stressed the suit was intended to place a spotlight on schools in general and policies regarding transporting students to school events. In the case of Park Christian, he said the school has a policy that students will be transported to school events.
"Policies weren't followed, and because policies weren't followed there are dead boys and two injured in a horrible traffic accident," Kvalvog said.
On Friday, a Clay County jury found the "John Doe" semi driver was responsible for the accident, not Zach Kvalvog, the school or the basketball coach.
Jurors found the parents were entitled to $2.5 million in damages for the death of each son, though it is unclear if they will ever see the money.
During the trial, both sides presented evidence showing the caravan was traveling over the 70 mph speed limit, with estimates ranging from just above 70 mph to more than 80 mph.
"To a dad, it's not reasonable to drive that fast," Ray Kvalvog told Thomas, referring to the pace set by the adults during the tournament trip, including Lee, who was driving alone in his own car in front of the pickup carrying the Kvalvog brothers and two teammates.
Kvalvog said he tried to find a school official willing to drive his sons to the tournament but none were willing. So, he let Zach drive the family's pickup.
"I allowed my son to drive, and within less than an hour later, my son had crashed," Kvalvog said, adding that the rub for him was when initial information from school officials made it sound like Zach had just driven off the road of his own accord.
"That's where this started," the father said.
One caller to the Jay Thomas Show asked why Lee was driving alone in the caravan and not carrying players.
Ray Kvalvog told Thomas that at the last minute Lee had a family situation of some kind that required him to pick up his wife in the Twin Cities. He said the situation also wouldn't allow Lee to drive players back to Moorhead after the tournament.
Kvalvog said his son Zach was trying to do the right thing by driving himself and other teammates to the tournament. "Zach was kind enough to say, 'I'll pinch hit and drive,'" Kvalvog said, adding, however, that because it was a school event and no school transportation was offered, "it (the trip) should have been shut down."
Kvalvog told Thomas the pickup truck had six airbags, but none of them deployed during the crash. He said his son Zach was found in the pickup buckled in, while Connor was found on the ground nearby.
He said it wasn't known just when Zach died, but he said that according to people who arrived at the scene Connor was alive for a short time before he, too, died of his injuries.
Acknowledging that some in the community have been critical of the lawsuit, Kvalvog said: "It's really hard every day to wake up without our boys. There's no more Christmas, there's no more graduations, there's no Fourth of July. It's all gone. It's really, really hard.
"For those that hate us — hey — take solace in that, because our lives have changed and not for the better," he added.
Talking about Park Christian School, Kvalvog said: "My family and my sons loved the school; we still do. I mean, my kids are buried in their Park Christian basketball uniforms."
After the trial, the attorney representing the Kvalvogs said they were weighing options, including a possible appeal.
On Monday, Ray Kvalvog said he didn't know "exactly what happens from here. But we have got some answers and that was a good thing."
Lee declined to comment after the conclusion of the trial. A message left with Park Christian School seeking comment was not returned.