As Meyer Warren and Nancy Athanassells rolled to a stop at a traffic light on Saturday night, the world exploded in front of them.

A red Geo Prizm had just exited Hwy. 100 on 57th Avenue N. in Brooklyn Center when "this car came flying out of nowhere and hit the red car, BAM!" Warren said Sunday afternoon at the crash site.

"The people in the red car had no time to react," added Athanassells.

Warren frantically called 911, then the couple jumped out of their van and ran to the Prizm, which like the other car was on fire. A young couple was inside, trapped and motionless.

As flames shot out from under the Prizm, Warren tried to pull driver Jessica Vallis from the car. "Her hair was hanging out the window," he said. "I didn't want her hair to catch on fire."

"I didn't know if they were knocked out or what," Warren said of the victims. "It never dawned on me that they had passed on." Vallis, 21, of Brooklyn Center, and George Kaffey, 22, of Bloomington, were killed instantly when a suspected drunken driver traveling at a high rate of speed smashed into them, the State Patrol said.

The two men in the other car, a Toyota Camry, were driver Yeng Vue, 21, of Minneapolis, and passenger Choua Yang, 29, of Brooklyn Center, the patrol said. They suffered minor injuries. Alcohol was detected on both, the patrol said.

At the Camry, Athanassells found that the driver had a bloody nose and seemed out of it, she said.

His passenger was furiously "shouting, screaming, 'Move your car, move your car,' talking to the people in the red car," Athanassells said quietly.

"I don't think he realized the people were dead or that he had hit them," Warren added.

Athanassells helped the driver out of his car and onto a snow bank. She got the passenger to safety shortly before police arrived to find him trying to walk away from the scene.

Warren said he was so focused on trying to rescue the young couple that it took him a minute to register that they were dead.

"Then Nancy said, 'Meyer, they're dead,'" he said. "Then we did the only thing we could do. We said a prayer for them."

On his last night, Kaffey finished work and was picked up by Vallis. They were exiting Hwy. 100 to head to her house when they were killed, Kaffey's older brother said.

"They both were good people," Peter Kaffey said sadly.

George Kaffey worked for a Marshall's department store and had attended the Minnesota College of Business. He enjoyed setting up websites and was working toward a profession in the computer industry, his brother said.

Emigrated from Liberia

One of six children, George had emigrated from war-ravaged Liberia as a boy with his family. His American dreams included getting a car, finishing college and finding happiness.

"George was just a genuine dude, always had a smile on his face, and he embraced everybody that he encountered," Peter Kaffey said. "He was just a good kid who just did everything the right way. He was a happy person. People just loved being around him because he was positive."

He and Vallis graduated from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth in 2008.

She worked at the North Ridge Care Home in New Hope and was a student at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, family members said. Her goal was to become a certified accountant and move to Maine, where she loved the scenery, said Josh Vallis, 25, of Grand Rapids, Minn., the oldest of Jessica's several siblings, who include a twin sister, Amanda.

She was "one of the most caring people you'd ever meet," her brother said. "She was so much fun to be around. She was always smiling."

He said his sister and Kaffey had gone out together for some time, had broken up but lately "had been talking about getting back together again -- they were still friends."

Josh Vallis said that when he and his girlfriend recently told Jessica that they were expecting a baby, "she was so excited, so thrilled, that she was going to become an aunt" for the first time.

Her family's grief is made even more intense by the nature of the "pointless" crash that took her life, Josh said.

"It's the most stupid reason there is for an accident -- someone gets drunk and gets in a car," he said.

Charges expected

All four people involved in the crash were wearing their seat belts, according to the patrol.

"Vue was driving fast, went right through the red light, and smashed into the driver's side of the Geo Prizm, which had the green light exiting Hwy. 100 north," said patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske. "... We believe he's going to be shown to be drunk."

Sunday evening, Vue was in the Hennepin County jail on suspicion of criminal vehicular operation.

He was also wanted on warrants in connection with an earlier drunken-driving case and for driving after suspension, jail records show.

After the accident, Warren and Athanassells talked to police, then drove on to pick up the DVD they had set out for.

But "it hit us right away," said Athanassells, a mother and grandmother. "Not what we had done, but that there were four young people whose lives had changed so instantly. I didn't sleep [that] night."

Neither did Warren, a father and grandfather. The couple stayed up all Saturday night talking.

She and Warren also tried watching the movie they rented to try to take their minds off the night's events.

"We watched it, but we really didn't watch it," Athanassells said. "I really don't remember the name of it. I couldn't even tell you what it was about. It was some martial arts film."

Staff writer Pamela Miller contributed to this report. • 952-707-9994 • 952-882-9017