Driver of pickup being held on three felony counts in three deaths.
With the help of friends' prayers, an Eden Prairie family is trying to make sense of a horrific crash that killed three of its own on Friday night in Kandiyohi County.
"They are still trying to get their hands around the immensity of the whole thing," the Rev. Joel Goff of Ridgewood Church in Minnetonka said on Sunday. "To comprehend that, in a few seconds, three generations -- your mom, your wife and your daughter -- were taken, it's hard to process."
Michelle Hoffman, 8-year-old daughter Julia and 5-year-old son Jason were riding with Hoffman's mother-in-law, Marta Stoffers, 68, near Willmar when a pickup truck crashed head-on into their minivan. Michelle and Julia Hoffman and Stoffers were killed; Jason Hoffman was injured.
The pickup's driver, Paul Wickenhauser, 21, of Norwood Young America, is being held in Kandiyohi County jail on suspicion of three counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide and two misdemeanor offenses, including having an open bottle. Charges are possible Monday.
The Hoffman family of six was spending the summer with relatives and planned to return soon to Oman, on the Arabian Sea, where they have worked for the past two years at the American International School of Muscat.
Since the crash, dozens of people have posted condolences on family members' Facebook pages and promised their prayers.
Melissa Bodin, whose mother, sister-in-law and niece died in the crash, posted a "tremendous thank you" to her Facebook friends and asked that they also pray for "the man that came upon the accident and pulled my nephew from the wreckage."
"We don't know your name yet," she wrote, "but believe that you were handpicked by God to be Jason's angel. Without you, he would not be here with us."
Goff, who was on his way to see the family Sunday evening, said Jason was "doing fine," but declined to give details. Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he is hospitalized, declined to give his condition on Sunday night, saying the family had asked to keep its information private.
"Our hearts are breaking for you and your family," one friend posted on the Facebook page for Michael Hoffman, husband of Michelle and father of Julia and Jason. "Our sorrow runs so deep right now with the loss of two lights that were so bright," another said.
Wherever they went, Michelle and Michael Hoffman created "connections in every direction," Goff said, quickly befriending those they met with openness and hospitality.
"And those connections were deeply rooted," he said. "They invested heavily in people, and people invested heavily in them."
Members of the Ridgewood Church and another church closer to their home, Grace Church in Eden Prairie, are cooking meals and stand ready to "serve and to help and to do whatever Mike needs," Goff said.
Sunday morning, Goff began his sermon by noting a simple coincidence. Months ago, he had made plans to preach this day about John the Baptist's doubts. Difficult circumstances can deepen doubt, he said, according to a recording of the sermon.
But Christians ought to turn to God in times of doubt and trust that sometimes life's occurrences are a mystery "that God in his sovereignty has not chosen to reveal to us," Goff said.
"I don't know about you," he said, but the story of John's doubt and Jesus' reassurances "is incredibly good news to me this morning."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168