Music, poetry mark teens' funeral
Survivors' battered faces tell story of Sunday's deadly collision
By Leigh Hopper
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 alone in 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 Angela Oehler and Precious Heart Oehler, were sisters of Miracle Rose. A passenger in the other vehicle also was killed.