It was 7 a.m. last Thursday. The close-knit Ziebol siblings were on a road trip, driving straight through from their home in Burnsville to visit their grandparents in El Paso, Texas.
Nineteen-year-old Taylor was behind the wheel, with her sister, Shannon, 17, beside her. Their brother, Adam, 15, was lying in the back seat.
The teenagers’ mother, Lesa Hess, believes her oldest daughter dozed off for a split second, just enough time for their car to cross the centerline of Hwy. 54 in southern Kansas and crash under the wheels of a semitrailer truck.
Although paramedics tried frantically to save her, Taylor died about an hour after the crash. Shannon and Adam were critically injured. All three were wearing their seat belts.
On Tuesday, their mom was with her two younger children at Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City, Kan., proudly talking about her children and grappling with the loss.
“These other two kids are strong kids, but we’re all struggling,” Hess said. “It’s a tough, tough time.”
Taylor was on a soccer scholarship at Ripon College in Wisconsin. Although she was in her first year, she’d taken college courses while she was still in high school and was a sophomore by the time the school year ended. She wanted to be a high school biology teacher, her mother said.
The young woman had played soccer from the time she was 3.
As a high schooler, she’d coached a team of 9-year-old boys, worked at the Lake-ville Target, baby-sat regularly for her teachers’ children and was a tutor in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program.
Renee Brandner, principal of Nicollet Junior High School in Burnsville, told KSTP-TV, Channel 5, that Taylor “had an amazing relationship with her siblings. She was a big sister who took on the caretaker role. She would brag about her brother and sister and how proud she was of them.”
Hess said her oldest was a God-loving Christian. “She was a faith-filled young lady, very angelic.
“She’d walk into a room and … she captured everyone’s attention. She was always happy,” her mother said.
A candlelight vigil in a Burnsville park the night Taylor died attracted 100 people, her mother said. A bratwurst sale on Sunday raised $6,200 to help with the family’s expenses.
Although funeral arrangements haven’t been made, the visitation for Taylor is likely to be held at the high school or a similar-sized venue because so many people want to attend, Hess said.
It’s been a difficult year for the teenagers and their family. Their stepdad, James Hess, has terminal cancer. A cousin — the 27-year-old son of their mother’s brother — was buried nine days ago after dying tragically.
Shannon will be a senior at Burnsville High School this fall. She is a soccer player, too, and had been training to run a half-marathon with her sister. She wants to be a physical therapist and hopes to attend the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
The teens’ father, Mike Ziebol, who died in 2002, is buried across the river in La Crescent, Minn. Taylor will be buried there, too.
Shannon is expected to be released from the hospital on Wednesday and will fly home to Burnsville with her aunt on Thursday.
Adam suffered massive abdominal injuries. He has had surgery and probably will undergo back surgery, too, but he is expected to make a full recovery, his mother said.
He will be a high school sophomore in the fall and is an avid golfer.
A Ziebol family memorial fund has been set up to help the family with medical expenses and funeral costs.
People can donate at any Wells Fargo Bank.