USASA Freestyle Champion Dies in Automobile Accident

Snowboarding lost one of it’s brightest rising stars last Saturday March 30, 2001 when four-time USASA National Champion, Annie Finnegan, age 13, of Duluth, Minnesoda died when the car she was riding in collided with a sport utility vehicle on Minnesota Highway 135. Annie, her aunt Joni Susan Williams, 37 and her cousin Stephanie Williams, 15, were all fatally injured.

Annie was a natural on snow. She had the highest score in the halfpipe competition at the USASA Nationals held two weeks ago at Mammoth Mountain, California. None of the women in any of the age groups was able to better her score of 24.50

Annie and her cousin Stepahnie had a close relationship, said Annie’s aunt, Mary Finnegan of Duluth. They were traveling to Giants Ridge for one last weekend of snowboarding when the accident happened.

“Annie was a champion through and through,” Finnegan said. “She was the type of person who motivated you to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise.”

Annie played on the Duluth East Greyhounds hockey team, and played tennis, skateboarded and water skied. She attended Ordean Middle School.

Rick Certano, executive director of Spirit Mountain, said Annie was a “very gifted athlete.” In addition to knowing her as a snowboard competitor, Certano coached her in soccer.

“I have this mental image of her with kind of a little half smile on her face,” Certano said. “I always had the impression with Annie that there was nothing she wouldn’t take on. She was just cool as ice.”

Stephanie also was an accomplished snowboarder, Finnegan said, “just that Stephanie was more of a person who just liked to have fun — she wasn’t as much of a competitor.”

Stephanie also played tennis, liked figure skating and water-skied. She was a ninth-grader at Virginia Middle School.

Joni Williams was a “very holistic” person, Finnegan said. She was a member of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia, was a massage therapist and practiced spiritual healing and holistic medicine and enjoyed hunting and fishing.

Four people were in the sport utility vehicle. The driver was Darrin Olin Christianson, 31, of Aurora. Passengers were Karen Ann Christianson, 32, and Joshua Christianson, also of Aurora, and Joshua LaTourneau, 12, of Biwabik.

All were taken to Virginia Regional Medical Center, treated and released.

Special thanks to Craig Lincoln and the Duluth News Tribune for the use of this story.