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Charges against suspect in Alberta junior-high crash upgraded

Rescue workers respond to a scene where a vehicle crashed into classroom in St. Paul, Alberta, Thursday, October 25, 2010.

Ryan McCracken/St. Paul Journal

A charge has been upgraded against a man accused of crashing his minivan into an Alberta school.

Richard Edward Benson was initially charged with three counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana.

But one of the students who was seriously injured in the crash died Friday.

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Mr. Benson now faces a charge of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, along with the charges of resisting arrest and possession of marijuana

The minivan crashed through the window of Racette Junior High School in St. Paul last Thursday, sending several Grade 6 French students to hospital.

Family members have said Mr. Benson had been suffering seizures in recent months and they believe he may have had one behind the wheel right before the crash.

Mr. Benson was wearing an eye patch and appeared dishevelled and tired in a St. Paul courtroom Monday.

About a dozen people were in the gallery. Mr. Benson appeared to have supporters sitting behind him. On the other side of the gallery, one woman wiped away tears.

The 46-year-old was due back in court later in the day and was expected to ask Judge Kathleen Williams for bail. The Crown said it would oppose his release and ask for a psychological assessment.

Three students, all girls with critical injuries, had to be airlifted 200 kilometres to Edmonton after the crash. Family confirmed 11-year-old Megan Wolitski died on Friday.

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Loved ones said Megan had a passion for dancing, especially ballet and jazz, and was also a swimmer. She wanted to be a teacher like her mother.

Mr. Benson's brother, Walter Benson, has said family members who have spoken with the man in jail say he dropped his children off at school that morning and blacked out right before his van left an alley and drove through a fence and into a classroom.

Police have said Mr. Benson was combative with officers during his arrest at the school. Investigators have said they are waiting for blood tests to determine if he will also be charged with impaired driving.

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