Janel Balmer was looking forward to Wednesday evening, her family said.
She was going to have dinner at home with them. Then, they would all go to a friend’s house for fireworks.
But first, she was going to pick up a friend and go to the mall.
Balmer drove north on Butler County Road in the family’s Dodge van. Shortly before 3 p.m., authorities said, she rolled through a stop sign at K-254 and was struck broadside by another Dodge van. She died an hour later at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said Balmer wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. It said she was not texting at the time of the accident.
The occupants of the other van, a couple from Wichita in their 80s, suffered minor injuries.
Friends and family spent July 4 remembering Balmer, a happy teen who made everyone around her laugh.
“She had such a passion for life,” her mother, Julie Balmer, said Thursday. “She loved being with her friends, doing stuff with her friends every chance she got. She loved being around people.”
Janel Balmer, 16, would have been a junior this school year at Rose Hill High School. The family had moved from Derby the year before to a home near Pawnee and Butler County Road, and she made friends at her new school quickly.
Dakota Shaye Jones, a sophomore at Rose Hill, had known Balmer for only a year but said they were already very close.
“If I needed anything, she’d always be there for me,” Jones said. “She was always there for everybody, even if she was going through a hard time. She always tried to be happy, to make others happy.”
Other friends and classmates echoed those sentiments on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day Thursday.
“She could always make me smile,” Jones said. “She was hilarious.”
Her friends and family said Balmer had two passions in life: sports and her faith. At Rose Hill, she played softball and basketball.
Assistant Coach Ray Boese worked with Balmer on the softball team and as her geometry teacher. He called her a “bright spot” on the team and in class.
“She really was always, always, always positive; always smiling and always giddy,” Boese said. “She was a great student to coach.”
Her mother said Balmer was going to try for the volleyball team in the fall. She said her daughter also wanted to be a physical therapist. A knee surgery in 2010 inspired her, Julie Balmer said.
Janel Balmer also spent many hours at Countryside Christian Church, where she sang with the worship team and participated with the discipleship and youth groups.
“She could light up the room,” said Rosie Skaer, a family friend and the church’s music director. “She was a party waiting to happen.
“She’s definitely going to be missed.”
Memorials have been established with Countryside Christian Church, 1919 S. Rock Road. A memorial service will be held for Balmer at 2 p.m. Sunday at the church.
In addition to her mother, Balmer is survived by her father, John, and brother, Justin.