After travels all over Europe and Asia, the Hoffman family had relished their summer weeks with relatives and friends back home in Minnesota. But just days before they were to return to their second life overseas, the Eden Prairie family has been devastated.
Michelle Hoffman, her 8-year-old daughter, Julia, and 5-year-old son, Jason, were riding in a minivan with Hoffman's mother-in-law, Marta Stoffers, 68, of Atwater on Friday night near Willmar when a pickup truck crashed head-on into their vehicle, killing three of them.
Family and friends across the globe are mourning Hoffman, 40, her young daughter and mother-in-law. Jason was in listed in critical condition early Saturday at Hennepin County Medical Center, but he is expected to recover.
"I'm stunned beyond comprehension," said Tom Borgman, a family friend and Eden Prairie neighbor who had dinner with the couple a few days ago. "None of us can wrap our arms around it. They were the nicest people you'd meet."
The driver of the pickup -- Paul Wickenhauser, 21, of Norwood Young America -- was treated at the scene and is now in the Kandiyohi County Jail. According to the State Patrol, an open bottle was found in his truck. Wickenhauser is being held on suspicion of three counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide and two misdemeanor offenses including having an open bottle. He has two prior convictions, including underage drinking.
The crash occurred during what was supposed to be the Hoffman family's final days in Minnesota before returning overseas for a year.
Michael Hoffman, a former Minnetonka Public Schools employee, and Michelle decided two years ago to move the family of six to Oman, on the Arabian Sea. The couple taught and worked in the capital at the American International School of Muscat -- Michelle in the classroom and Michael in IT.
Borgman said the couple and their four children -- Jason, Julia, Joseph, 12, and Jacob, 14 -- soaked up every second of their time overseas, from swims in the ocean to trips across Europe.
They even started a blog, with the tag line "an everyday American family seeking worldwide adventures."
"It was one of those opportunities to do something really exciting in an exotic place," Borgman said. "They had a blast. They were both live-for-the-moment and go-for-it kind of people."
During the summers, they returned to Eden Prairie, packing days with visits to friends and bookending their time in Minnesota with visits to Atwater, 13 miles east of Willmar, to see Michael's parents.
According to the State Patrol, Michael's mother, Marta Stoffers, was driving east on Hwy. 12 when Wickenhauser's westbound 2004 Chevy Silverado crossed the center line of the two-lane highway, colliding with Stoffers' 2001 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The van careened into a ditch and caught fire.
Wickenhauser was alone in the pickup at the time.
According to his Facebook page, Wickenhauser attended Ridgewater College in Willmar and graduated from Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 2010.
On Saturday, support for Michael Hoffman and his sons stretched across the Twin Cities and the world. Friends, family and fellow churchgoers from Ridgewood Church in Minnetonka called the deaths devastating. Pastor Joel Goff has been in contact with the family. He said 5-year-old Jason is doing fine physically and is expected to be released from the hospital within the next few days.
'Everybody loved her'
Julia was described by friends as a happy, energetic 8-year-old who loved to spend time with her mom on outings like pedicures.
Michelle Hoffman was described as vivacious, outgoing and well-known in the Minnetonka community from her years as an in-home day care provider.
Steve Nugent's children went to her day care a few years ago. "She was like a second mom," he said. "Everybody loved her.
Nugent also worked with Michael Hoffman in Minnetonka Schools and had seen the entire family just weeks ago.
"The kids are so great and we feel so bad for them," Nugent said, breaking up. "It just hurts to see it all."
Staff writer Brad Schrade contributed to this report. Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib