St. Paul newlyweds Leah Fonda and Brian Preiss met in a world of bumper cars and roller coasters, but it was their honeymoon ride across the country that they were looking forward to the most.
The couple, both 30, got married earlier this month and decided that for their honeymoon they would take a long road trip to New England. But the vacation ended tragically Saturday when a drunken driver crashed into their car on a New Hampshire highway, killing Fonda and seriously injuring Preiss.
After working in the amusement park at the Mall of America for 12 years, Fonda and Preiss started dating last fall before they got married on July 12 in a Bloomington chapel, said Preiss’ uncle Ken Czech, of St. Cloud.
Preiss would often take road trips with his younger brother, so the couple decided a trip on the open road would make a fun newlywed getaway, Czech said.
“That was something that Brian wanted to share with Leah, and she was quite excited,” he said.
The couple had planned to visit Boston and Niagara Falls. But the accident changed their lives on the eighth day of their trip, Czech said.
New Hampshire State Police said that authorities responded to a crash about 4:30 Saturday afternoon at the intersection of Route 4 and Old Mill Road in Rollinsford. It appeared that Preiss had been eastbound on Route 4 when a car going in the opposite direction drifted over and struck Preiss’ vehicle “in a near head-on fashion.”
Both Preiss and Fonda were taken to a hospital in Dover, where Fonda died. The other driver, Matthew Tsopas, 43, of Somersworth, N.H., had fled, but was later found and hospitalized as well. He was charged with negligent homicide, drunken driving and felony conduct after an accident. The crash remains under investigation.
Preiss is still in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Czech said. His parents are with him, Czech said.
“You can’t even call this an accident. … This is completely avoidable,” Czech said, referring to the alleged drunken driving.
Fonda had a smile and bright eyes “that just lit up the room,” he said.
“She had met the love of her life. … To have it end so abruptly is truly a tragedy,” Czech said.
The Mall of America also released a statement after news of the accident.
“We were greatly saddened to hear about the accident regarding Leah Fonda and Brian Preiss. Leah and Brian have been valued members of Nickelodeon Universe since 2001 and have touched many lives. Our hearts and thoughts are with their families and friends during this difficult time.”
A memorial fund has been set up by the couple’s family. Contributions can be sent to the Leah Fonda Preiss Memorial Fund, c/o Wells Fargo Bank at 809 10th Avenue North in Sartell. Contributions can also be made at any Wells Fargo Bank branch.