MOORHEAD — When Zach Kvalvog, 18, and Connor Kvalvog, 14, died in a motor vehicle crash in June of 2015, a big part of their parents' lives died with them.
That is the opinion of Kathrine Daniels, a marriage and family therapist who interviewed Ray and Kathie Kvalvog, of Moorhead, in 2016, around the anniversary of the death of their sons, who were killed on June 23, 2015, when the pickup Zach Kvalvog was driving crashed on Interstate 94 near Dalton, Minn.
The brothers, both students and basketball players at Moorhead's Park Christian School, were heading to a tournament in the Wisconsin Dells when the incident happened.
A Minnesota State Patrol report on the crash said a semi crowded into Zach Kvalvog's eastbound lane of I-94, causing him to swerve and overcorrect, resulting in the pickup leaving the road and rolling across the median before coming to rest in the westbound lanes of the interstate.
On Wednesday, July 24, Daniels testified in Clay County District Court as part of a wrongful death lawsuit the boys' parents brought against Park Christian School and Josh Lee, who was the school's head basketball coach at the time the crash happened.
The lawsuit seeks $82.9 million.
In her testimony, Daniels painted a verbal picture of two parents who were very close to their children and gave generously of their time and resources to help their boys become successful, "upstanding human beings."
Daniels said both of the Kvalvog boys were talented athletes whose natural ability was reinforced by access to a home gym and an indoor home basketball half court, as well as support from personal trainers.
Ben Woodside, a former North Dakota State University basketball standout who later played professionally in the United States and abroad, testified Wednesday that he spent time with the Kvalvog brothers, and he said both possessed impressive skills.
"The sky was the limit for them," Woodside said.
A similar appraisal came from former NDSU basketball coach Erv Inniger, who five years ago served a one-year stint as basketball coach at Park Christian.
Inniger told jurors Wednesday that having coached at the college level for 23 years, Zach Kvalvog impressed him as "one of the toughest kids I've ever coached, at any level."
Of Connor Kvalvog, Inniger said he was amazed at his scoring ability, adding that his time at Park Christian "was one of the greatest seasons I've ever had."
Daniels told jurors she spent hours interviewing Ray and Kathie Kvalvog, as well as their relatives and friends. She said it became clear to her that, for the Kvalvogs, "paying it forward was a way of life."
She said that included helping pay school tuition for 13 children in the community.
Among those who have benefited from that generosity is Tyrell Rodriguez, a longtime friend and teammate of the Kvalvog brothers who testified Wednesday that the Kvalvog family paid school tuition for himself and his brother.
Rodriguez also talked about the day in 2015 when he lost his friends.
On that day, Rodriguez and several Park Christian teammates were riding in a vehicle at the front of a three-vehicle caravan heading for the basketball tournament in Wisconsin.
He said the second vehicle in the caravan was driven by coach Lee — which carried only Lee — while the third vehicle in line was the pickup driven by Zach Kvalvog, in which Connor Kvalvog and teammates Mark Schwandt and Jimmy Morton rode as passengers.
The Kvalvog brothers died in the crash. Schwandt and Morton were injured and later recovered.
Rodriguez said leading up to the trip he was under the impression he would be riding to the tournament in transportation provided by the school, but when he got to Park Christian that morning, he found no van or bus waiting.
He approached Zach Kvalvog about getting a ride, but he said his friend told him he didn't think there would be enough room in the pickup.
Rodriguez said he ended up getting a seat in the caravan's lead vehicle, and after they got on the road he tried to keep an eye on the Kvalvog pickup to see how his friends were doing.
At one point, the vehicle he was riding in passed a semi and trailer and he looked back to see that the car Lee was driving was also passing the semi truck, at which point Rodriguez said he turned his attention elsewhere.
Minutes later, he said, someone in his vehicle received a phone call and he could hear the person who answered the call say, "What do you mean the boys are dead?'''
As shock took hold of those in his vehicle, Rodriguez said he looked out the rear window and could no longer see the Kvalvog pickup, so he urged the driver to turn the vehicle around. Rodriguez said they found a route that took them back the way they came.
As they approached the wreckage of the pickup, someone waved them off and told them not to look at the scene.
Robert McAllen, a retired State Patrol trooper and accident reconstructionist, testified Wednesday that he estimated the average speed of the caravan after it left Moorhead was about 81 mph.
The speed limit on I-94 in Minnesota is 70 mph.
McAllen also asserted that, had the Kvalvog brothers been riding in one of the other vehicles in the caravan, "They'd be well and alive today."
Another reconstructionist, Kenneth Drevnick, testified Tuesday that, based on information obtained from the pickup's airbag system, he estimated the pickup was driving 77 mph moments before the crash, and Zach Kvalvog may have intentionally reached about 80 mph as he attempted to pass the semi and trailer, which was moving at an estimated 65 mph.
Drevnick said when Kvalvog sensed the semi was crowding into his lane he made a sudden movement to the left, then a sudden turn to the right and, finally, a very strong swerve back to the left, which sent the pickup into a slide and a roll that carried it across the median to the westbound lanes of I-94, where it came to rest.
During the crash, the pickup may have reached 116 mph before coming to a stop, according to Drevnick, who said that in passing the semi Zach Kvalvog was likely trying to keep pace with the other vehicles in the caravan.
In talking about the loss suffered by Ray and Kathie Kvalvog, Daniels told jurors the whole family connected around how well Zach and Connor connected with each other.
"They were the center of the family," she said.