Kyra Hayes’ life was full, and the high school junior from Beldenville, Wis., had dreams to make it overflow in the years ahead.
Those years never came, however, for the 16-year-old who died in a car crash Friday afternoon that authorities in western Wisconsin have attributed to a driver in another vehicle having two hands on a cellphone and not on the steering wheel.
MaKellia S. Jensen, 21, of Big Lake, Minn., was driving in front of Hayes on northbound Hwy. 35 in the town of Troy and “had both hands on a cellular phone seconds before the crash,” a statement from the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office read.
Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Klatt, who has reviewed his agency’s reports, said it appears Jensen did not have either hand on the wheel and “wasn’t steering at all” in the moments leading up to her car veering into Hayes’ lane near River Falls.
Hayes took “evasive action” toward the median to avoid hitting Jensen’s car and rolled her own vehicle “several times.” The two cars did not make contact, and Jensen turned around in a median crossover and returned to the scene, the Sheriff’s Office added.
Hayes, who was wearing a seat belt, was thrown from her car, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Emergency responders declared her dead at the scene.
Jensen's license has been suspended by the state since March 2014, a Department of Public Safety official said Tuesday.
Klatt said numerous witnesses driving on that stretch of Hwy. 35 told authorities they saw Jensen behind the wheel with both hands on her cellphone. Klatt said he does not know whether Jensen was talking on the phone, texting or possibly taking a photo.
“If anybody is going to learn something” from this highway death, said Kyra’s mother, Ione Hayes, it “is that the world lost a wonderful person.”
Ione Hayes added, “I don’t have any animosity toward this girl. But you have to realize there are consequences for decisions.”
Messages were left Monday with Jensen and her stepfather seeking her reaction to the account of the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation of the crash and will decide whether to recommend charges against Jensen.
Neither Jensen nor a 22-year-old woman in the car with her were injured during the incident.
The apparent connection between distracted driving and Hayes’ death is an increasingly familiar scenario in western Wisconsin and all around the country. The latest federal data paint a troubling picture when it comes to cellphones taking motorists’ attention from the road.
In 2014, 3,179 people were killed and another 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers across the United States. The percentage of drivers text-messaging or visibly manipulating handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent the next year.
A Facebook posting Monday by Hayes’ sister, Rachael, expressed gratitude to motorists who stopped at Friday’s crash scene.
“Thank you for counting out the compressions,” the sister wrote. “Thank you for whispering in her ear. ... Thank you for covering her with your jacket ... Thank you for trying to save my beautiful sister.”
Kyra Hayes, already getting strong grades at Ellsworth High School, was earning college credits as well and had just taken on working one day a week at a local nursing home. Every summer, she went to Bible camp for two weeks and “scrubbed pots and pans. ... She had lots of drive.”
The high-energy teenager also wedged in a part-time job at the family’s Milio’s sandwich shop across the border in Oakdale.
She was on her way to the shop, roughly 30 miles from the Hayes family home, when the crash occurred.
Ione Hayes said her daughter was saving money for college and starting to size up her options with a dream of being a doctor, looking near home at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the University of Minnesota or a bit farther at UW-Madison.
“She asked her father for another shift, and he said as long as your grades don’t suffer,” Ione Hayes recalled.
Along with sister Rachael and mother Ione, Kyra Hayes is survived by her father, Luke Hayes, and brothers Ethan and Cole. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Rush River Lutheran Church in rural River Falls.
A family friend has started an online fund-raising campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/kyra-hayes-memorial-2vjvhyk.