A 2017 Sun Prairie High School graduate died Tuesday afternoon, July 28, after being struck by an unattended tractor near a beach at Clear Lake State Park in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Mercedes Kohlhardt, age 21, of Eau Claire, was sitting near a beach at Clear Lake State Park around 4:13 p.m. when the unattended state-owned tractor rolled down a hill and struck her, according to a news release from the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office.
The compact tractor was sitting on top of a hill on a grassy area near the beach, Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals told the Des Moines Register. The small utility tractor is used for tasks that include clearing brush, Pals said.
Kohlhardt was in Clear Lake vacationing with her boyfriend, Pals said. The sheriff said the couple was on the grassy area when the tractor struck Kohlhardt. Brakes on the tractor were applied when it started rolling, Pals told the Register.
A Class of 2017 Sun Prairie High School graduate, Kohlhardt was active at the Sun Prairie Media Center, which is home to cable access channels KIDS-4 and KSUN as well as 103.5 FM The Sun Community Radio. KIDS-4 is an afterschool media production program run by the SPMC designed for Sun Prairie Area School District students in grades 4-8.
“All of us at the Sun Prairie Media Center are shocked and saddened to hear about the untimely passing of Mercedes Kohlhardt, a former KIDS-4 crew member who then worked at the Media Center from 2014-17 while attending Sun Prairie High School,” a message on the SPMC Facebook page reads.
A painting that Kohlhardt donated to the SPMC has hung in the SPMC entrance since 2017.
“Mercedes was a lively, funny, and creative force during her time here,” the SPMC Facebook page concludes. “Our thoughts go out to her family.”
“Mercedes was a great girl,” Jamison Rabbitt wrote on the SPMC Facebook page. “She always had a smile for everyone who came into the Media Center.”
“How sad,” wrote Kris Swenson Collins on the SPMC page. “Prayers to her family and friends.”
“I’m in shock,” wrote Keyiona Johnson. “I was in KIDS 4 with her. Prayers for her family.”
“Thank you for this,” wrote Hannah Devyor on the SPMC page. “She always said her time at the media center was some of the best. She really cared about all of you and the kids we got to know.”
The Sun Prairie Media Center is accepting donations in the memory of Mercedes to the Pam Steitz Scholarship Fund. The fund exists to allow all children to take part in KIDS-4 and other age-appropriate Sun Prairie Media Center programs and activities. Donations can be mailed to 1350 Linnerud Drive, Sun Prairie, WI, 53590.