LAKE ELMO, Minn. (FOX 9) - A teenager from Lake Elmo in the intensive care unit with severe chemical burns after a tragic crash in Illinois last week.
Authorities said on Sept. 29, a jackknifed tanker truck released toxic ammonia into the air, killing five people and injuring several others.
Four college students from the University of Missouri, or Mizzou, were in a car behind the tanker when it overturned. One of them is 18-year-old Sarah Tague, who is a 2023 Stillwater Area High School graduate.
Tague had just started to find her place as a freshman student, studying biochemical engineering and joining Mizzou Club Swim.
"She's such a chill kid. Very funny, sarcastic, willing to do anything and help you out," said Brandi VanGunst, Tague’s aunt.
VanGunst said on Sept. 29, Tague and three teammates were driving near Teutopolis in central Illinois on their way to a swim meet at Ohio State when the tanker truck in front of them crashed. Illinois authorities said the tanker leaked an estimated 4,000 gallons of toxic chemicals.
"This accident caused a large plume cloud of ammonia on the roadway that caused dangerous air conditions in the northeast area of Teutopolis," said Sheriff Paul Kuhns with the Effingham County Sheriff's Office in Illinois during a news conference on Sept. 30.
Tague and her friends ran from the car as far as they could. Hours later, her parents got the call saying she had been life-flighted to Springfield, Illinois, which was about 90 miles away from the scene.
"(It was difficult) figuring out where she was, what condition she was in because they didn't know anything. So that I think is any person's worst nightmare," VanGunst said.
The exposure to anhydrous ammonia, which federal health officials say is mostly used for agriculture or refrigeration, caused severe chemical burns that left the college swimmers with swelling and irritation to their lungs, eyes, and skin.
Tague is still in the ICU, but VanGunst said she is making little improvements every day, with her family by her side.
"Life can change in literally an instant. Futures can change in a matter of seconds... Enjoy each day and really, don't take anything for granted," she said.