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Fatal buggy crash prompts questioning of current road laws

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NEAR CANTON, Minn. (FOX 47) -- On a day when you hold your family close, the Mast family, laid their 13-year-old son and brother, Joseph Mast, to rest.

"I'm still at a loss for words, it's been hard," Joseph's older brother, Yost Mast said. "It's definitely not the Christmas I was hoping for."

Last Saturday night, the Mast family was en-route to a Christmas program. On the way, their buggy -- carrying six family members inside -- was hit by a car.

"Menno said he looked back and didn't see headlights," Neighbor and family friend Jacque Hahn said. "And he heard Joseph say 'wait, dad, wait.' But it was too late."

Joseph was airlifted from the scene. But despite life saving efforts, he died the next day.

"They determined late Sunday after that it was probably time to pull the plug and he just lived a couple minutes," Hahn said.

Joseph's father, Menno fractured his hip and back, along with a severe concussion. Menno has a long road to recovery and is unable to work with his injuries.

"Just looking at the buggy, it's a miracle that not more of them got hurt," Yost said.

Hahn says in this case, it was a clear cut accident. Even so, Minnesota State Patrol reports an uptick in buggy crashes -- but why that is, they can't say.

"We're not really sure if it's distractions causing it. We've had alcohol related instances, so we're not really sure what's causing them," Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson said.

By law, buggies are to drive on the shoulder and bear a red-orange sign -- or a black sign, with white reflective tape and lighted red lanterns. But it isn't full proof.

"Amish buggies don't have turn signals or any type of equipment like that," Sgt. Christianson added.

In south east Minnesota, it's rural areas that are the most heavily populated with the Amish community, like Fillmore County. Sometimes rural roads work against safety.

"A lot of times in rural areas the gravel roads are minimal," Sgt. Christianson said. "So its important for people to be aware and drive a speed that's safe for them."

Yost yearns for laws to change -- but sees conflict within the Amish community to do so.

"If they put lights on their buggies it would help so much," Yost said. "I understand years ago they didn't need lights. But now there are cars on the roads. That's part of the reason I left. Its a joy to go on a buggy ride, its fun, but things like that, its bound to happen."

Hahn agrees.

"It's a tricky thing because their beliefs are so strong...I think lighting would be the biggest way to make a change if we could make a change," Hahn said. "It is very difficult when the buggies are black, most of the horses are black and particularly in the county where there isn't a whole lot of lighting."

While the Mast family continues to grieve over the loss of Joseph, they are also thinking of the driver who hit them. The driver's fiance commented on the family's GoFundMe page saying:

"This is not the happy ending we were praying for. There are no words to take away the pain. Our deepest sympathies are with you. We are very much in shock and cannot fathom why this had to happen. Bless the Amish Community for being so sincere and caring towards my fiancé in the midst of their tragedy. You’re all some of the kindest individuals and I admire your relationship with God! I'm really at a loss for words. We are so incredibly sorry Mast Family! Many prayers being sent your way! Danielle Stortz & Brian Schwingle"

Simultaneously, the family is dealing with piles of medical bills.

"Amish don't have medical insurance," Hahn said. "They rely on help from each other and sometime the bills are too large to handle that way."

If you'd like to help the family with finances, click here.

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Beret Leone

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