Scott Lorenz choked back tears Tuesday, still struggling to comprehend that in a flash his two young daughters and their mother were gone, killed in a three-vehicle crash on an icy central Minnesota highway.

He couldn't get all the words out.

"I can't believe I lost all three of them in one ... " Lorenz, of Royalton, said less than 16 hours after Melissa Lorenz's SUV crossed into an oncoming lane near Little Falls and hit a pickup truck head-on.

A moment later, another pickup heading east on Hwy. 27 hit both vehicles involved in the initial impact, the State Patrol said. The two-lane highway was slick at the time, shortly after 6:45 p.m. Monday.

Killed along with Melissa A. Lorenz, 31, were her daughters, 10-year-old Angela and 7-year-old Desiree. They lived in Flensburg, about 7 miles southwest of the crash site.

The pickup drivers, Robert M. Nieman, 56, of Little Falls, and Kelly J. Rutz, 29, of Randall, Minn., were taken to St. Gabriel's Hospital in Little Falls and were expected to survive, the patrol said.

Melissa Lorenz was not wearing a seat belt, said Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske. Angela was seated in the rear of the SUV, with a seat belt on. Desiree was in a restraint device appropriate for her age and also was seated in the back.

Scott Lorenz, who was separated from Melissa Lorenz, said that authorities told him that her SUV "spun sideways [after the initial collision], and a third vehicle came in and hit Melissa's vehicle in the driver's side."

Melissa Lorenz and her daughters were headed home after after driving to Little Falls to pick up a prescription for Angela, who as an infant lost most of her hearing from meningitis, said Robert Lorenz, the girls' grandfather.

He said the girls had just visited him and their grandmother Sunday on their farm near Flensburg. "We have a kitten here that they really enjoyed playing with," Robert Lorenz said. "My wife and them were very close."

Angela was a fourth-grader at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault, and would stay there from Sunday evening through Friday, Robert Lorenz said. There was no school Monday because of the Presidents' Day holiday.

Desiree, a first-grader at Lindbergh School in Little Falls, "was a happy girl who came to school every day with a smile and left with a smile," said Lindbergh Principal Jill Griffith-McRaith. "She was all of a sudden coming into her own academically in reading and math.

"She will be missed," the principal added. "Her classmates are struggling with her not being there."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482