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Getting Through : In Remembrance

Just wondering

from Lovelight23 - Thursday, April 28, 2005
accessed 7715 times

I was just wondering if anyone remembers the accident that happened about 10 years ago involving about 10 of the kids in TF. Like 6 kids died and the driver survived. I don't remember much else about it, I remember one of my friends Kris (from Stefan and Phoebe) died in it as well as a few others that I knew for a bit, but I don't remember their names. I was wondering if anyone had any articles on that or had a name of a website to read about it. Thanks.


Any help here would really be appreciated.

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from justafriend
Tuesday, January 24, 2006 - 01:40


Saw this while browsing, thought it might help you:
(reply to this comment)

from cheeks
Sunday, May 08, 2005 - 16:28

If I am not mistaken the seats of the van were not bolted into the floor and there were no seat-belts either. It was one of the Family vehicles, need I say more.
(reply to this comment)
from update
Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 19:20

Jesse Wickenheiser is still in the family and is now in China, naturally the Family doesn't like it to be known that it has members there, and any testimonies ad nauseum published from "sensitive countries" have their names changed/removed.
(reply to this comment)
From notyetdrunk
Wednesday, July 20, 2005, 21:38

While he may have been the driver of this horrible accident. I think the Family bears the burden of this tragedy. Who in their right mind would have a seventeen year old driving what can only be described as a death trap. With a bunch of tn girls in the back? Why was the adult not driving? The reality is the poor kid was so distracted by everything that went on in the back seat they never had a chance. Most states have laws on how many teenagers can be in the car at one time, and usually it is not more than two unless it is siblings.(reply to this comment
from Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 16:51

Youth group tragedy 6 die when truck collides with van carrying religious campers

DATE: July 17, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

The ingredients of an idyllic summer day -- camping, swimming and the celebration of a birthday -- turned into a nightmare Sunday afternoon when six people died in a two-vehicle wreck described by Austin officials as one of Austin's worst ever.

Five of those killed were teen-age members of an international religious group, traveling from New Orleans to Laredo on an evangelical trip. The group stopped to camp at McKinney Falls State Park in Southeast Austin. Police said the van the group was riding in ran a stop sign and struck a pickup. The sixth person killed, who had been in the pickup, was celebrating her 45th birthday.

``It was a difficult scene to work,'' said Jim Persons, a spokesman for Austin Emergency Medical Services. ``Patients were stacked on top of each other, and there were additional patients under the van itself.''

Group members killed in the wreck were Precious Oehler, 15, and Katrina Oehler, 14, of New Orleans; Nina Wickenheiser, 17, whose last known address was in Montreal; Victoria Korkahms, no age available, who is believed to be from New Orleans; and a 16-year-old girl whose address has notbeen determined.

The two people in the truck were identified as John and Rhonda L. Harrisfrom the small Bastrop County community of Cedar Creek. Rhonda Harris, 45, died later Sunday at Brackenridge Hospital.

The driver of the van, whose identity was not known, could face charges of negligent homicide, police said.

Survivors said those riding in the van were members of the Family, a nondenominational Christian-based group, police said. Investigators believe Wickenheiser may have been moving to New Orleans.

Witnesses said the van, carrying 11 teen-agers and traveling north on McKinney Falls Parkway about 12:55 p.m., ran a stop sign or failed to yield and broadsided a pickup truck.

The Harrises, who were returning home from McCoy's Lumber Yard, were headed east on Burleson Road. The pickup landed in the weeds along the roadside; the crumpled van, filled with passengers, Bibles, pamphlets and luggage, rested on its side.

Four victims from the van, all females, were pronounced dead at the scene. Four others were taken by STAR Flight helicopter to Brackenridge Hospital, where one later died. Five others were taken by ambulance.

Late Sunday, two patients were listed in critical condition. ``It is difficult to survive for a long time with severe head and chest injuries,'' said surgeon Dr. Clyde Smith.

Hospital officials reported that two other patients remained in serious condition, two were listed in good condition and one was listed as stable, which is between serious and good.

Christie Richards, spokeswoman for the Family's U.S. headquarters in Houston, said, ``I believe they were on a summer trip just seeing the sights. We like to do that with our teens during the summer--take trips, see America."

Persons estimate it took 15 minutes for medical personnel to reach the first live victim in the crumpled van. The victims suffered multiple broken bones, open and closed head injuries, chest wounds, and abdominal injuries; they also were having dificulty breathing.

Two jaws of life hydraulic prying devices had to be used to extricate everyone.

Police said it appeared everyone in the van, which had Louisiana license plates, was between the ages of 14 and 18 and no one was wearing a seat belt. Police said there was no evidence of alcohol or drugs.

The Harrises were wearing seat belts, authorities said.

George Phifer, a former acting Austin Police Department chief of

police who retired in 1992, said he does not remember an accident

quite as deadly in recent Austin history.

``This one sounds as bad as any in recent times I can recall,'' Phifer said. ``I think one time about 25 to 30 years ago there was a bus accident in Northwest Austin where a large number of people were killed.''

The group members in Sunday's wreck had been camping at McKinney Falls State Park since Friday, at a site registered to Jessie Wickenheiser, who gave park officials an address in Montreal. A park employee, who said Sunday the group had registered for another night, said members had guitars and other musical instruments with them.

Residents near the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road, where the speed limit is 40 mph, say accidents there are common.

``That intersection is really, really bad,'' said park employee Shalimar Arnold. ``There's a stop sign at McKinney Falls, but Burleson is straight through.''

Residents say that even when people do stop at the sign, the tall grass along the side of the road makes it difficult to see oncoming traffic. Neighbors have petitioned Austin and Travis County officials for a traffic light, said resident John Bilski.

Indeed, the intersection is the most dangerous one on Burleson Road, according to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Last year, 42 accidents occurred on Burleson Road -- 23 of them involving injuries, though none of them fatal. The intersection with the most accidents was Burleson at McKinney Falls roads, where six wrecks occurred in 1994.

Of the six accidents at Burleson and McKinney Falls roads last year, two resulted from drivers who disregarded the stop sign there. In three other accidents, drivers had failed to yield right of way.

Four of the wrecks involved injuries; all the accidents happened during daylight. Two were three-vehicle collisions, three were two-vehicle collisions, and one involved a vehicle hitting a fixed object, according to accident records. Two of the six accidents happened in the summer, June and August. ``Maybe now they'll put in a light,'' said Bilski. ``Let's consider safety, not politics.''

After the accident, the Christian group's campsite was deserted, with two tents still standing, towels hung on a clothesline to dry and dishes washed and neatly stacked.

Staff writers Chuck Lindell, Starita Smith, Claire Osborn and Jeff South contributed to this report.

(from map)

How it happened

1. Van traveling north on McKinney Falls Parkway, carrying 11 people.

2. Pickup truck traveling east on Burleson Road, carrying two people.

3. Van runs stop sign and collides with truck.

4. The van rolls over and comes to rest on its side; the truck is

barely visible in tall grass.


Caption: Jay Carr; Larry Kolvoord; The members of the Christian-based group the Family who were killed or injured in the collision on Burleson Road had rented this campsite at McKinney Falls State Park. Towels hung drying on lines and dishes were stacked neatly in a plastic tub on a picnic table near three dome tents.
(reply to this comment)
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 16:52

Silence, then a struggle with the heat and horror

DATE: July 17, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

No crying. No screaming. Just silence.

That silence -- along with the sights and smells of what is among the worst accidents ever in Austin -- will be what medic Jim Persons remembers about his Sunday afternoon at work. ``It was surprisingly quiet,'' Persons, one of the first emergency workers to arrive at the scene, recalled later Sunday.

Pungent odors -- gas, oil, radiator fluid and blood -- saturated the air. A prayer book, a hairbrush, musical instruments and luggage lay strewn on the ground around the crumpled van.

Inside, the bodies of the dead and the living were piled on top of each other. Some passengers were so dazed they didn't realize they were standing on each other, Persons said.

Two of the bodies spilled out from the van's windows, but the vehicle had rolled on top of them. In the midst of the devastation, one dazed passenger struggled to free himself from the wreckage.

``This is the worst accident I've seen in 17 years,'' said Persons, the acting district commander for Austin's Emergency Medical Services. He said the victims' young ages made the tragedy harder to face.

``It's the fact that these are kids,'' Persons said. ``And you look at it , and there are so many critically injured, and the injuries they have are so devastating.''

Some firefighters talked about having children the same ages as the victims, and one police officer became alarmed when he mistakenly thought one of the girls could have been a niece, Persons said.

The enormity of the tragedy, Persons said, was compounded by the terrible heat, 94 degrees when the 1 p.m. accident occurred.

EMS medics and firefighters wore protective gear that made the temperatures dangerous, he said. One officer was taken to South Austin Medical Center because of the heat, and an EMS medic was treated at Brackenridge Hospital and released, Persons said.

EMS set up a unit with air conditioning, ice water and wet towels to cool rescuers at the scene.

Persons said he coped by focusing on getting his job done. In less than an hour, Persons and 17 other medics, firefighters and police officers pulled passengers out of both vehicles and got them to the hospital.

The impact of the accident might hit some EMS medics later, Persons said.

A critical incident stress team met with medics as they returned from the scene and will meet again with them in the next two to three days --after they have time to think about what happened, Persons said.(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 16:54

Teens part of group with roots in '60s

DATE: July 17, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

The teen-agers in Sunday's fatal accident in Southeast Austin belong to the Family, an international religious group begun by David Berg, a Californian who espoused a blending of Christian and sexual theology.

Formerly known as Children of God and dogged by accusations of sexual impropriety, the organization underwent a reformation in the late 1980s, changed its name to the Family and began advocating a wholesome image and almost Spartan lifestyle. ``We are evangelical. We believe in the Bible,'' said Christie Richards of Houston, a two-decade member of the group. ``We preach the Gospel. We help poor. We do a lot of ministries to the homeless.''

The teen-agers in Sunday's accident were traveling from Louisiana to Laredo with an adult church member from New Orleans. In Laredo,they were to evangelize and spread the group's biblical message,Richards said.

Richards wasn't sure where the teens lived but said several were from Canada.

Founded in the free-love era of the late 1960s, Berg's religious organization became notorious for ``flirty fishing,'' a practice in which women used seduction to gain new members. ``Flirty fishing'' proved a successful conversion tool, and the Children of God expanded into more than 70 countries. The practice was dropped in 1987.

``It was an experiment that worked for the time,'' Richards said.

Richards said the Family includes 9,000 members, 6,000 of whom are children and teen- agers.

Berg, who changed his name to Moses David, died in London in 1994 after two decades in seclusion. He had become a mystical figure, his movements tracked by women carrying tape recorders so his every utterance was saved. His second wife, Maria Berg, took over leadership of the Family.

Berg communicated with his followers through statements called ``Mo Letters,'' oracles on a wide variety of subjects from sexual practices to the proper way to brush teeth.

In several missives, Berg advocated underage sex and advocated incest and intercourse between youngsters. These oracles led to arrests on sexual abuse charges of members in Australia, Spain, France and England -- though none of the cases was successfully prosecuted.

Most recently, Brazilian authorities in 1993 raided Family homes, detained 32 adults and placed 137 children in protective custody.(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 16:57

Faith sustains families after crash
Relatives have prayers, tears for six who died

BYLINE: Chuck Lindell
DATE: July 18, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

Leaning on their religious beliefs for support, family members of five teen-age girls killed in Sunday's two-vehicle accident in Southeast Austin began arriving Monday at Brackenridge Hospital to remember the girls and pray for six other church members who survived the crash.

``God promoted them to bigger and better jobs,'' Richard Noell said from Miami shortly before boarding a flight to Austin. ``There is more for them to do.'' Noell's daughter, Kristina Noell, 16, was one of the 14- to 17- year-old girls killed Sunday during a cross-state evangelism trip when their van failed to stop at an intersection near McKinney Falls State Park and broadsided a pickup that was crossing the intersection at McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road.

``She's got angel hair,'' Richard Noell said of his daughter. ``She's really striking. It's not just my daddy's pride. She's just angelic. This really didn't seem to be her home.''

Also killed in the afternoon crash was Rhonda Harris, 45, a passenger in the pickup. The driver of the pickup, her husband, John Harris, received minor injuries and was released Sunday night from Brackenridge Hospital.

Reached at his Cedar Creek home in Bastrop County, Harris said he was too distraught to discuss his wife or the accident, which rescue workers described as horrific.

The occupants of the van, 10 teen-agers and one adult, were members of a Christian-based religious group formerly called the Children of God but today known as the Family. The 11 were on an evangelism trip from New Orleans to Laredo and had camped in McKinney Falls State Park on Friday and Saturday nights.

At Brackenridge Hospital -- where one teen-ager remained in critical condition Monday -- relatives of the dead and injured began arriving from their homes in Canada, Florida and New Orleans.

``We're all broken and crying,'' said Louis Korkames of New Orleans, whose 14-year-old daughter Victoria died Sunday. ``We're certainly going to miss our loved ones.''

Louis Korkames, who owned the van involved in the crash, was staying Monday at the Ronald McDonald House near Brackenridge with several other families of accident victims.

Also killed Sunday were Nina Wickenheiser, 17, and sisters Precious Oehler, 15, and Katrina Oehler, 14. Their mother, Carolyn Jeanne Oehler, 47, was in good condition Monday at Brackenridge Hospital.

Police have said the van's driver, Jesse Wickenheiser, the 18- year-old brother of Nina, may be charged with negligent homicide. He was in critical condition Monday.

The teen-agers departed about a week ago from New Orleans, where the Family established a full-time residence about a year ago, and had traveled to Dallas, where Louis Korkames saw them while he was visiting his parents.

They arrived in Austin on Friday and made camp at McKinney Falls. They made trips into Austin to evangelize -- the main purpose of this and similar trips teen members of the Family take during the summer.

On Saturday afternoon, two members of the group knocked on Shelley Ruth Hamilton's apartment door in Northeast Austin.

After paying $10 for a tape of religious lullabies, Hamilton invited Kristina Noell and Carolyn Oehler into her home to cool off. They talked for about an hour.

``Kristina touched me; she was so beautiful,'' Hamilton said. ``She told me how she liked to take care of little children. We were going to keep in touch.''

The teens were registered at the park through Sunday night. Their ultimate destination was Laredo, where they were to disseminate the Spanish-language religious materials they were carrying in the van, Louis Korkames said.

As word of the tragedy filtered through the Family's loose-knit system of communes and centers across the world, church members fondly recalled the lives of the five girls:

*Precious Oehler: Always talk --ing, the precocious and independent 15-year-old loved to dance and quickly set others at ease with a disarming charm, friends said.

``She was very cheerful and outgoing. She had a lot of spark,'' said Justin Cummings, 19, of Atlanta. Cummings met Precious at a Family house in Puerto Rico several years ago.

*Katrina Oehler: She emulated --Precious, who was one year older, but her brash personality was not lost in her sister's shadow.

``She's the character,'' Louis Korkames said. ``(She was) bubbly, enthusiastic, testy, and a roughhouse, yet very tender with her younger brothers and sisters, very tender-hearted.''

*Nina Wickenheiser: The 17- --year-old Canadian loved to perform, whether it was singing hymns in nursing homes or acting out religious street theater in front of sometimes unappreciative teen-agers.

``She really had a heart for children,'' said Ian Curran, 24, of Houston, who met Wickenheiser in a Family home in Philadelphia about a year ago. ``Every time the news showed the children in Bosnia or some that were hurt, she'd cry and pray for them.''

*Kristina Noell: The third of --nine children, the 16-year-old was a striking beauty with a sunny disposition.

``We called her Hope because she was sweet and hopeful,'' said Diamond Montgomery, 20, a friend of Kristina's who lives with Family members in Houston.

Having followed her missionary parents to Yugoslavia, Hungary, India and the Caribbean, Kristina was well-traveled.

``Kristina started her missionary life at the age of 4 when we went to Mexico,'' said Richard Noell, 44. ``I actually have photos of a mike in her hand singing at a hospital. She was quite a singer.''

*Victoria Korkames: Quiet and --a bit shy, Victoria was the responsible one, the oldest of seven children.

``One quality I remember: she was always on the lookout for younger brothers and sisters,'' said Nathnael Parker, 18, of Atlanta.

On Monday the girls' families began making funeral arrangements.

Christie Richards, national spokeswoman for the Family in

Houston, said many of the families live a frugal lifestyle and

cannot afford funeral expenses or flights into Austin. She said the organization created the Family Teen Accident Relief Fund at Post Oak Bank, 910 Travis, Suite 1950, Houston, 77002.

None of the victims' bodies had been claimed by relatives or funeral homes late Monday, said Darlene Dunn of the Travis County medical examiner's office.

Staff writers Scott W. Wright, Nichole Monroe and Jim Phillips contributed to this report.

(from box)

Those who died in the crash:

*Kristina Hope Noell, 16, Miami

*Nina T. Wickenheiser, 17, who was moving from South Burlington, VT., to Montreal

*Victoria Korkames, 14, who adresses in New Orleans and Ponchatoula, LA.

*Precious Oehler, 15, New Orleans

*Katrina Oehler, 14, New Orleans

*Rhonda Lynn Harris, 45, Cedar Creek

Those injured and their conditions:

*Jesse John Wicenheiser, 18, who was moving from South Burlington, VT., to Montreal, the driver of the van, critical.

*Carolyn Jeanne Oehler, 47, who has adresses in New Orleans and San Ysdiro, Calif.,, good.

*John Wickenheiser, 16, who was moving from South Burlington, VT., to Montreal, good.

*Stephen Philip Fisher, 17, Montreal, good.

*Juan David Otoyo Silva, 16, Smithfield, N.C., stable.

*Penelope Roza Itzel, 15, Tijuana, Mexico, stable.

*John Harris, 41, Cedar Creek, treated and released

Source: Austin Police Department


Caption: Rebecca McEntee; The intersection of Burleson Road and McKinney Falls Parkway was quiet Monday less than 24 hours after six people died in an accident described by emergen cy personnel as `horrific.'(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 17:53

Gathering Pieces of Shattered Lives
Sorrow sets in for families after crash

DATE: July 19, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

A stone cottage in the country with a hammock out front. Goats to tend, fences to build. Students to teach, children to raise.

The details of John Harris' broken dream are scattered like shards of glass. Harris' wife, Rhonda, 45, died in Sunday's accident near McKinney Falls State Park when a van carrying 11 members of a religious group ran a stop sign and broadsided Harris' pickup as it was crossing the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road.

``It's going to be very hard to go on without her,'' Harris, 41, said Tuesday at his Cedar Creek home in Bastrop County. ``I've been divorced. I didn't know you could actually perfectly match with someone. It's just been ... I don't know. We were happy, and I don't think I ever will be again.''

Five teen-age girls who were riding in the van also were killed in the crash.

Speaking steadily and slowly, three fathers of the girls, who were members of the Family, a nondenominational religious group, talked of their own losses at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Children's Hospital of Austin at Brackenridge.

``There are things you can't express if you say it in words or put it on TV. We're still shocked. She died very young,'' said Mark Wickenheiser, whose 17-year old daughter, Nina, died in the accident. His son Jesse, whose daughters Precious, 15, and Katrina, 14, also were killed in the accident, said he was grateful for the support the families had gotten from the hospital and from Austin, including one woman who wrote a poem to his wife, Carolyn, who also was injured in the crash.

He said if there was a lesson to be learned from the tragedy, it was to always wear seat belts. None of the people in the van were wearing them.

John Harris said his friends, co-workers and relatives are looking after him. But a visit with Harris is a lesson in how a life can be torn apart in a split second.

He and Rhonda married seven years ago and moved to Texas shortly after, he said. It was a second marriage for each. They had four children in their ``blended'' family, ages 12, 14 and two 20-year-olds.

John, a big, gentle-looking man with a dark beard, went to work for Pittencrieff Communications Inc. in Austin after serving 20 years in the military. Rhonda was a substitute teacher for troubled kids in the Bastrop Independent School District. She loved animals, big and small.

``Anything that ... couldn't fend for itself,'' John said, his voice breaking.

They did everything together, he said. She dug the post-holes, John helped build the fence. On Sunday, he invited Rhonda along to buy some cement at McCoy's, and she left her glasses on the table in themiddle of a jigsaw puzzle she'd just begun.

On the way home -- the crash came. John Harris, who received minor injuries, was able to undo Rhonda's seat belt before an emergency medical worker took over. He knew she was hurt badly, but didn't realize how bad. She died later at Brackenridge Hospital.

``There was another man there -- if he reads this I hope he gets in touchwith me. Huge guy. He said he lived close and he'd seen the wreck. And he came over and he prayed for me,'' Harris said.

Austin police Sgt. Sam Cox said Harris told investigators the van was traveling at least 40 miles per hour.

``And the crash indicates that,'' Cox said, based on the force of the impact. ``It just blew through the stop sign.''

The speed limit on McKinney Falls Parkway before it intersects with Burleson Road is 35 mph.

Based on the positions of the vehicles after the crash, photos from the scene and other evidence, ``I feel very, very confident that the van came through that stop sign at a very imprudent rate of speed,'' Cox said.

Cox said the evidence probably will lead to a criminal charge such as negligent homicide, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail.

``It's not going to be hard to prove he went through the stop sign,'' Cox said.

Cox said proving the speed of the van may be difficult, but said, ``I don't think the grand jury will have a whole lot of trouble establishing there was a violation of the law and it resulted in six deaths.''

Thomas Oehler said none of the survivors could remember much about what happened. Oehler said his wife, Carolyn, who was in the front seat of the van, told him she ``blacked out'' when the accident happened.

Thomas Oehler said his wife may be released from the hospital today.

Louis Korkames, whose daughter Victoria died in the wreck, said the van couldn't have been speeding because it had been on the road for only a few minutes before the accident happened.

Thomas Oehler and Mark Wickenheiser said they had ridden with Jesse Wickenheiser and that he was a careful driver.

Mark Wickenheiser, when asked what he thought about the possibility of Jesse Wickenheiser being charged with negligent homicide, said he and the other fathers still had questions about the accident.

``We're still looking for answers,'' Mark Wickenheiser said.

John Harris said he has not heard from anyone from the religious

group. ``I don't know if it would be appropriate or not (for them to

call),'' he said. ``That's for God to decide and for them to decide if they want to. Loss of life like that is just horrible.''

The day of the crash was also Rhonda Harris' birthday. A cheesecake with a red candle was waiting at home in the refrigerator. On Monday, she and her husband were going to Georgetown to buy her a horse.

But they never got to celebrate.

``She loved it here and wanted to stay here. It's like she'd had

a premonition the last few months that something was going to

happen,'' John said.

``(She said) `If anything happens, bury me in Texas. I want to stay here.' But we thought it was going to be 30 or 40 years down the road.''

Burial arrangements for Harris are pending with Marrs Jones Newby Funeral Home in Bastrop.

Although the five girls in the van who died were from Canada, New Orleans and Florida, they will be buried together in Austin, said Christie Richards, a spokeswoman for the Family.

``What's important is that the girls are in heaven; it's not as important exactly the place where they are buried,'' Richards said.

The funeral will be Thursday or Friday, and arrangements will be handled by Austin-Peel and Son Funeral Home. Contributions for the teens' funeral expenses can be sent to the funeral home, 8507 N. Interstate 35, Austin 78753 or to Family Teen Accident Relief Fund, Post Oak Bank, 910 Travis Suite 1950, Houston, TX 77002.

Staff writer Jim Phillips contributed to this report.


Caption: Ted S. Warren, Larry Kolvoord; John Harris did everything with his wife, Rhonda, who died in the tragic collision Sunday near McKinney Falls State Park. The pickup the two were riding in was struck by a van carry ing members of nondemoninational religious group the Fam ily. Harris' friends and relatives are looking after him, but he says, `We were happy, and I don't think I ever will be again.'; Rhonda Harris was celebrating her 45th birthday Sunday when tragedy struck.; Mark Wickenheiser, Louis Korkames and Thomas Oehler look on as Christie Richards, spokeswoman for the Family, addresses a news conference at the Children's Hospital of Austin at Brackenridge. The three men, fathers of teen-age girls killed in the crash, spoke about dealing with the loss of their daughters. `There are things you can't express if you say it in words or put it on TV,' Wickenheiser said.(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 16:59

Music, poetry mark teens' funeral
Survivors' battered faces tell story of Sunday's deadly collision

BYLINE: Leigh Hopper
DATE: July 22, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

Friday's funeral for five teen-age girls killed in a van-pickup collision Sunday in Southeast Austin was filled with music and was mostly upbeat.

Yet the five matching caskets -- silver and white with pink trim, each topped with a spray of pink carnations and daisies -- and the battered faces of four of the five accident survivors attending the service were sobering reminders of what transpired on the sunny afternoon of a camping trip. Poems, heartfelt eulogies and catchy songs accompanied by guitars during the service were in keeping with the belief of the Family, the religious group the girls belonged to, that heaven is God's reward for believers and death is a positive thing.

``The Lord had his hand on each of us in the car,'' said Carolyn Oehler, who survived the wreck but lost two of her daughters, Katrina, 14, and Precious, 15. ``He wanted them to go up there, and He had a bigger job for them to accomplish.''

About 150 to 200 friends, relatives and members of the Family attended the 10 a.m. service at Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church, 833 E. Anderson Lane.

Kristina Hope Noell, 16, Nina Theresa Wickenheiser, 17, Katrina Angela Oehler, Precious Heart Oehler and Victoria Luz Korkames, 14, were killed when their van, driven by Jesse Wickenheiser, 18, ran a stop sign and collided with a pickup at the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road.

Rhonda Harris, 45, the passenger in the pickup, also was killed. Her husband John, 41, the driver of the pickup, received minor injuries.

The teens were on a missionary trip from New Orleans to Laredo. They had stopped at McKinney Falls State Park to camp.

Police have said Jesse Wickenheiser may face a criminal charge such as negligent homicide, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail. Their investigation is continuing, and the findings will be presented to a grand jury, police said Friday.

Crash survivors Carolyn Oehler, 47, and Penelope Roza Itzel, 15, attended the service in wheelchairs. John Wickenheiser, 16, Stephen Philip Fisher, 17, were on crutches, and Juan David Otoya Silva, 16, had cuts on his face. Jesse Wickenheiser is still in Brackenridge Hospital in serious condition, according to hospital spokeswoman Kris Lorenzo-Luaces.

In the funeral crowd were numerous teen-agers, friends or cousins of the girls. Seventeen-year-old Latasha Luevano of Arizona wore a T-shirt sycamore sapling.''

``We're very happy for Nina,'' said Mark Wickenheiser when his turn came. ``We know where she is. She's completed this phase of her existence.''

Pastor Jonathan Berg took the occasion to ask people to raise their hands if they were willing to ``take their place and be a witness for God, a missionary for Jesus. ... If you don't want them to be alonein heaven, this is the time to do it.''

Donna Vernon of Del Valle, a passer-by who was the first person on the scene of the accident, attended the funeral because she had watched fire department personnel, medical workers and police all work together to help the teens. ``And yet I saw four people die right before my eyes,'' she said. The service offered ``closure for me.''

The funeral program, which featured photographs of the girls, had a note at the bottom that read: ``The families of the deceased also wish to extend their deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of John Harris.''

Christie Richards, spokeswoman for the Family, and Mark Wickenheiser, father of the Wickenheiser teen-agers, plan to attend today's funeral service for Rhonda Harris.

The service is set for 10 a.m. today at the chapel at Marrs Jones Newby Funeral Home on 507 Old Austin Highway in Bastrop.


Caption: Tom Lankes; Miracle Rose Oehler, 2, stands by the caskets Friday of youths who died in Sunday's two-vehicle crash. Two of the dead, Katrina AngelaOehler and Precious Heart Oehler, were sisters of Miracle Rose. A passenger in the other vehicle also was killed.(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 17:00

Group in collision to move to area
The Family, which lost 5 members in collision near McKinney Falls, rents house in Round Rock

BYLINE: Starita Smith
DATE: July 26, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

Despite the devastation of a traffic accident near McKinney Falls State Park that killed or injured 11 of its members, a

Christian-based evangelistic group is planning to move to Round Rock and proselytize in Austin.

Thomas Oehler, who said he has been an ordained minister in the Family (formerly the Children of God) for 25 years, announced plans to move part of the New Orleans group to the Austin area to establish another mission here. Oehler said before the accident, he and some other Family members had decided they would leave New Orleans soon. The group travels from place to place living in various communities while members try to spread their religion, sometimes going door-to-door as the teen-agers had done in Austin before the accident.

Austin's response to Oehler and other parents with injured or dead children prompted members to decide they should live here to give back to the community, Oehler said.

But a permanent welcome may not be waiting for them. Their future Round Rock neighbors worry that too many people will be living in a single-family house and that the peace in their neighborhood will be disturbed by efforts to get them to join the Family.

Cyril McInnis, who owns a rental house in Round Rock, said Louis Karkames, another member of the Family, signed a lease to rent his property at 1006 Walsh Lane. Karkames mentioned during their first telephone conversation about the house that a daughter had died in an accident.

Victoria Karkames, 14, died in a July 16 wreck after the van she was riding in with 10 other members of the Family went through a stop sign at McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road and broadsided a pickup carrying aCedar Creek couple, according to police reports. Oehler and his wife, Carolyn, lost two daughters, Precious, 15, and Katrina, 14.

Six people, including Rhonda Lynn Harris, who was in the truck, and two other teen-age Family members in the van, died in the accident.

Everyone else who was in the wreck was treated at Brackenridge Hospital. All have been released from the hospital except Jesse John Wickenheiser, 18, the driver of the van. A hospital spokeswoman said he remains in serious condition.

The investigation of the wreck continues, and no charges have been filed, said Michael Burgess, an Austin Police Department spokesman.

Oehler and Karkames realize that some would wonder why they would want to live so near the scene of such recent devastation.

``The idea first came to me, and I started talking to other people about it,'' Oehler said. He told his friends: ``You know, people have been so sweet to us, isn't there something we can do to give back to them?''

Oehler said he and his wife and the Karkames were guided through prayer to live in Austin. They plan to share the Round Rock house with seven surviving Oehler children and six surviving Karkames children as well as Family members who will visit from time to time.

Oehler and other Family members are hoping that Central Texans will support their missionary work by contributing household goods, food and a van to replace the one they lost in the wreck, he said in an open letter to the people of Austin.

But Round Rock may not offer the welcome that Family members received in Austin. Some believe the group is too large to live in one house, especially one on a quiet, residential street, and others worry about possible attempts to foist a religion on them.

McInnis, who said he wasn't told exactly how many people would be living in his house, was stunned by the news.

``Seventeen people are going to be living here? He (Karkames) told me they were going to be living here one group at a time, not all at the same time. This is a big house, but they can't all fit in here,'' McInnis said, of the two-story four-bedroom dwelling where he has lived for more than eight years.

``I'm disappointed at the plan to rent it,'' said Sally Fisher, a Walsh Lane neighbor. ``I'm sure the children would tear it up.''

Fisher and another neighbors said they weren't excited about having missionaries in the neighborhood either. She and a Hindu neighbor said they don't meddle in others' religious lives, and they don't like it when people attempt to meddle in theirs.

Oehler said, however, he is encouraged by the generosity of the people of Austin. In his open letter he thanked rescue crews, hospital and Ronald McDonald House staff and the congregation of Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church, which loaned the Family its facilities for the mass funeral last week, for their help.

Jack Hammans, an elder at Christian Fellowship, said the church simply made a humanitarian gesture.

``We would have done this for anyone even if they were nonreligious,'' he said. ``We have no connection with them, and no intentions of doing anything with them'' after they move here.
(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 17:02

Landlord decides Christian group too big for house

DATE: July 27, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

The Family, a Christian missionary group that lost five members in a major collision near McKinney Falls State Park on July 16, will not be able to rent a house in Round Rock because the would-be landlord changed his mind about the arrangement.

Landlord Cyril McInnis said Wednesday there had been a misunderstanding that left him unaware that the group would have 17 people living in the single-family house. He said he was afraid the high occupancy would violate the fire code.

Thomas Oehler, a member of the Family, said he is still looking for a new home for the group in Austin.(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 17:04

Man sues over wreck near McKinney Falls

DATE: September 2, 1995
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

The husband of a woman killed in a collision with a van
transporting a religious group near McKinney Falls State Park earlier this summer has sued the driver of the van, the City of Austin and Travis County.

The lawsuit stems from a July 16 accident at the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road. Police said a van driven by Jesse Wickenheiser, 18, ran a stop sign and struck a pickup driven by John Harris of Cedar Creek.

The collision killed Harris's wife, Rhonda, 45. It also resulted in the death of five teen-aged girls in the van who were members of a Christian evangelistic group called the Family. The religious group had been camping at McKinney Falls State Park. Five other persons were injured in the wreck, police said.

On Thursday, John Harris, 41, filed suit against Wickenheiser,alleging that Wickenheiser was negligent in running the stop sign and failing to control the speed of the van.

Harris also sued Louis Korkemas, a member of the religious group, who Harris said owned the van. The suit says the van had improper tires and inadequate brakes.

The City of Austin is cited in the suit, according to Harris, because it failed to keep the stop sign brightly painted so it could be seen.

Harris also is seeking damages from the county, saying it failed to keep high grass from partially obscuring the sign.

The suit asks a court to award damages to Harris for medical expenses, mental anguish and to compensate Rhonda Harris's two sons for the loss of their mother.

``John Harris and his family have been devastated by this collision, which could have been avoided by care and attention,'' said Leonard Gabbay, Harris's attorney.

Christie Richards, a spokeswoman for the Family ofHouston, said Wickenheiser, who was injured in the collision, has been living in Houston for the past three weeks.

``He walks with a cane and is undergoing physical therapy,'' Richards said Friday.

Police said details of the accident will be presented to a Travis County grand jury to see whether criminal charges should be filed against Wickenheiser.

Richards said Friday that Wickenheiser has been discussing the accident case with Houston defense attorney Mike DeGeurin.

Valerie Davenport, a Houston lawyer representing the religious group, said Wickenheiser should not be blamed for the accident.

``We investigated the intersection, and our reaction is that the focus is on an innocent child. It is the city and county and surrounding landowners who are responsible,'' said Davenport.

Davenport said other accidents have occurred at the intersection, which she blamed on ``high grass and insufficient road markings.''

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, six collisions occurred at the intersection last year. DPS said two of the accidents involved drivers disregarding the stop sign and three accidents occurred because drivers did not yield the right of way. (reply to this comment
From hmmm
Friday, April 29, 2005, 08:30

Didn't attorney DeGuerin do work for Branch Davidians? (reply to this comment
From ErikMagnusLehnsher
Friday, April 29, 2005, 21:05

I'm not sure about Mike DeGuerin but I am sure I remember reading that his brother Dick DeGuerin worked to negotiate their surrender prior to the fire and might have represented some of the survivors.(reply to this comment
From Historian
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 17:06

Austin, county cleared in 1995 accident

A Travis County jury has found the City of Austin and Travis County were not negligent in a 1995 traffic accident in which six people were killed and seven were injured. The lawsuit, which was resolved with the jury's verdict Friday, stems from an accident in which Jesse Wickenheiser drove a van on McKinney Falls Parkway and ran a stop sign at Burleson Road, striking a pickup driven by John Harris of Cedar Creek. Harris' wife, Rhonda, 45,

Author: Compiled from staff reports
Date: October 20, 1999 Publication: Austin American-Statesman (TX) Page Number: B2 (reply to this comment
From Historian
Friday, April 29, 2005, 05:30

I noticed the last few sentences of this story were left out. Here is the rest.

BYLINE: Compiled from staff reports
DATE: October 20, 1999
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
SECTION: Metro/State

Austin, county cleared in 1995 accident

A Travis County jury has found the City of Austin and Travis County were not negligent in a 1995 traffic accident in which six people were killed and seven were injured. The lawsuit, which was resolved with the jury's verdict Friday, stems from an accident in which Jesse Wickenheiser drove a van on McKinney Falls Parkway and ran a stop sign at Burleson Road, striking a pickup driven by John Harris of Cedar Creek. Harris' wife, Rhonda, 45, and five teen-age girls who were members of an evangelistic group called the Family were killed in the collision, Assistant City Attorney Fred Hawkins said Tuesday. Neither Wickenheiser nor his attorney could be reached for comment Tuesday. Plaintiffs, including Wickenheiser, asked for $6.5 million in damages, alleging that a ``stop ahead'' sign was obscured by vegetation and a stop sign was too faded. The jury found that the signs were visible and that Wickenheiser and the driver of the van were negligent. rivera(reply to this comment
From Historian
Friday, April 29, 2005, 05:33

Here's another one.

AUSTIN -- Judge urges settlement in traffic fatality suit: Travis County District Judge Scott McCown told attorneys Monday that they were risking much by taking to court a lawsuit stemming from a 1997 accident that killed six people, including five teen-age girls. Lawyers for Travis County, the City of Austin and O'Malley Engineers Inc. asked McCown to throw out the suit filed by Jesse Wickenheiser, who was driving a van for a religious group on an evangelical trip. Wickenheiser ran a stop sign at the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road, colliding with a pickup. Five girls in the van and a woman in the pickup were killed. Wickenheiser's attorneys said he did not see the stop sign because the city, county and engineering firm did not maintain it. McCown told the plaintiffs that photographs failed to show how the sign was obscured. He also told the defendants they should offer some compensation. Trial is scheduled for Sept. 13. -- Leah Quin, 445-3621,


BYLINE: Keith Paul, Leah Quin, Dylan Rivera, Erin J. Walter, Mary Ann Roser, Brad Reagan, M.B. Taboada, Mary Ann Roser,
DATE: August 31, 1999
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
SECTION: Metro/State
PAGE: B2 (reply to this comment
From NClaunch
Friday, April 29, 2005, 11:23

So what ever happened with the suit against Jesse? I remember the incident well. I was in Seth and Lily's home in Dallas then, and had ridden in that van many times. Not only did it have bad brakes and tires, but there WERE no seatbelts to use and the seats were improperly attached. They wobbled and pretty much fell over with every turn. Maybe they weren't even attached at all. Also a rearview mirror fell off when my mother was driving it once and the side door of the van took several people to shut it. Bascially just a piece of crap. Lucky there weren't more accidents with that vehicle. Victoria was a good friend of mine. She is greatly missed.(reply to this comment
From Peter
Tuesday, May 10, 2005, 19:26

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
I am gathering a collection of public court records pertaining to the various civil suits related to this accident and I was able to get some records today from the Travis County District Clerk's office. There was one microfilm roll that they couldn't immediately find. So far, I have scanned some records related to the suits Richard and Linda Noell, Louis and Stephanie Korkames, Mark and Kendra Wickenheiser, Richard and Carole Fisher, Rod and Maria Silva Henderson, Carolyn and Thomas Oehler, Jeff Hultgen, Juan David Otoya Silva, John Wickenheiser and Jesse Wickenheiser filed against the City of Austin, Travis County, Omalley and Clay, Inc., A. Garza Engineers, Inc., Austin Industries, Inc. dba Austin Paving Co., Lockheed Martin Corporation, CMG Partnership, Ltd., Charles Goodnigh, John Husdon Akin, William Paul Ludwig Jr. and Len H. Layne. The records scanned so far are posted at

They sued everyone they could think of and the case dragged on for years and after a one-month trial they lost on every single claim. I believe the original final judgement required the plaintiffs to pay the defendants attorney's fees (not sure how much they were but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a few hundred thousand dollars) but this may have changed after appeals (they were still appealing something in April 2001 but missed some deadlines). I will do more research and find out the final disposition of the case. I believe John Harris (whose wife was killed in the accident) also filed a suit against the Wickenheisers and I will try to find out exactly what happened with that. I seem to recall it was settled before trial.

It was interesting to find out that the defendants deposed Stephen Kent as a possible expert witness (something about the Family's standard policy of lying and deception when dealing with the legal system) and there were strenuous objections by the plaintiffs and they advised the court that they might use J. Gordon Melton and James T. Richardson as their own expert witnesses to rebut Kent's testimony.

It's also interesting that the Family apparently allows its members to file personal injury suits against Systemites for injuries related to automobile accidents but their Charter (as of June 2003) specifically prohibits Charter members from taking any type of legal action whatsoever against "a person who was excommunicated from the Family for alleged abuse, either physical or sexual, of a child" unless they first leave the Family altogether or are reclassified (from CM to FM at the time of the June 2003 amendments but the terms have changed since then) until the matter is resolved.

(reply to this comment
From really!
Tuesday, May 10, 2005, 20:26

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(

And what ever happened to let it go, it's in the past, don't be bitter, Romans 8:28, the Lord must have had a plan?

And oh, bolting down your car's seats?(reply to this comment

from afflick
Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 14:13


The accident happened in Austin, Texas in 1995, during a summer fundraising roadtrip. Those involved were (as far as I can remember):

Jesse, John, Nina, Stephan, Kristina, Precious, Katrina, Victoria, Estrella, Charity (Precious and Katrina's mom).

The girls that died (Nina, Kristina, Precious, Katrina, Victoria) were buried in Austin.

(reply to this comment)

From Lovelight23
Thursday, April 28, 2005, 14:57

Thanks I appreciate it. I was wondering though if anyone had any photos or a website that has info on the actual incident. (reply to this comment

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