by Amy Sturgeon

Senior music major Bree O’Connor and former student Joey Mayer felt the excitement that comes with knowing their wedding day was only days away. That excitement quickly turned to sorrow when shocking news came of Jessica, Nikki and Krista Mayer’s deaths in an automobile accident. The three girls were outside of Willmar, Minn. on their way to a small bachelorette party being held for Bree when their Dodge Lancer hit a minivan.

“Pastor Keith Kerstetter asked me how I wanted to handle calling everyone to tell them that we were going to postpone the wedding,” Joey said. “I told him we wanted to do everything the same as we had planned.” The pastor told him to sleep on it.

In an unexpected move, Bree and Joey made the decision to carry on with the wedding. “I thought it would honor my sisters,” Joey said. “I told him that we would do a small wedding if we had to.” His father, Joe Mayer, agreed with his decision: “When we get to heaven I don’t want the girls to say, ‘Why did you cancel the wedding?’”

There were some immediate problems. All three girls were supposed to have been bridesmaids in the wedding. Guests were confused as to how they should react at the wedding. Pastor Keith addressed the congregation before the ceremony with a statement. He told them there would be a time for mourning but that this day was to be a time of celebration.
Debbie Mayer, the groom’s mother, said the pastor set the tempo for the day. “I prayed that I wouldn’t cry at their wedding,” Debbie said. “I didn’t.” Joey and Bree postponed their honeymoon. Instead they helped their parents prepare for the funeral.

Marriage in the midst of tragedy has had an effect on the young couple. “It’s kind of forced us to put little things aside in our marriage,” Bree said. “We’ve had to skip a year in our marriage.” The newlyweds agreed that their ministry together as a couple has been given an early start. “We were able to minister together at the funeral,” Joey said. “That’s something that we did earlier than we expected.”

Family survives crash that killed 3

While three people died in a tragic accident just one mile outside of Willmar, Minn., three others walked away relatively unharmed. The Mayer family will never be the same after the Thursday, Jan. 1 crash took the lives of three sisters, Krista, Nikki and Jessica.

Neither will Patricia, her daughter Katelyn nor her son Nathan, who were also involved in the deadly collision. They too are still reeling from the tragedy. “You ask yourself, ‘What could I have done?’” Katelyn said. “And you know you really couldn’t have done anything.”

Patricia said the first week after the accident was the hardest for them. “You keep replaying it in your mind. You keep remembering the crash,” she said. The site of the accident is almost visible from the end of their driveway outside Willmar on Highway 12. Katelyn, 15, who was driving on a learner’s permit, had just a few seconds to react before the collision occurred. The passing zone where the Mayer girls were driving ends almost into an S-curve, and she said it can be deceiving in the dark for people who are unfamiliar with the highway.

“I think they felt they could make it,” Patricia said. “I don’t know if they saw us before we hit.” Their teal Plymouth Voyager minivan came to a stop sitting across the east-bound lane. She smelled fumes and rushed to get her family out of the car. Katelyn’s side of the car had borne the brunt of the damage, but her mother was able to hoist her out of the broken window.

“If you look where she was sitting, she should have smashed her legs,” she said. “We believe God was protecting us.” Taken to the hospital for her broken ankle, Katelyn heard nothing about the others involved in the accident. “Then I overheard someone talking to the other parents on the phone,” Katelyn said. “I heard him say to them, ‘Could you please describe your three daughters?’”

No one slept in their house Thursday night after the accident. Friday morning, calls and visits from friends and family poured into the house. Patricia said she was unprepared when media vans started pulling up. Trying to get back into their regular routine was hard for the family. She said she cried all Sunday morning. Nathan slept in his older brother Jordan’s room that first week. Many people were supportive. Katelyn received flowers from friends, and the family received cards and letters. Joe and Debbie Mayer, the parents of the girls who died, visited with Patricia and Katelyn on the Sunday after the accident.

Both mother and daughter feel that being Christians has given them hope and peace. Katelyn said it was God’s peace that helped her deal with the days after the accident and that she has learned to value each day. She also said that this experience will help her witness to others about her faith. “God could have chosen to take my life that night, but he didn’t,” Katelyn said.

*This article was originally published on Jan 27, 2004 in the Northern Light Campus Newspaper at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN.