A close-knit Missouri community is reeling after four lives were lost in a free-fall crash from an icy Kansas bridge one day after Christmas.
Lisa Luft, 47, of Kearney was driving two of her daughters and a family friend to visit family in Colorado, according to a friend. Her children, Brianna and Aria, were 20 and 14, respectively. Brianna’s friend, Saleena Senzee, was 18.
Tuesday morning, Luft lost control of her Dodge truck on westbound Interstate 70 outside Abilene, Kan. The truck hit a bridge guardrail before plunging over it 25 feet to an embankment below. It came to rest on its roof near railroad tracks.
Aria was the only one taken to a hospital.
Ethan Luft, Brianna and Aria’s brother, said he had lost “four of the most important women in my life.” He described Saleena as practically a member of the Luft family.
He also thanked the Kearney community for the “absolutely unreal” support shown to him and his relatives as they mourn.
Aaron Senzee, Saleena’s brother, said Saleena was an “angel in disguise” who “went out of her way to make sure you felt loved.”
“She was a hugger and a lover,” he said. “A lot of people in life are afraid to tell those they love that they really do love them. But not my sister.”
Jazlynne Dawson, a friend who knew all four of the victims, said Saleena grew up on the same street as the Lufts.
They became friends in junior high. Dawson recalled traveling for choir competitions through high school with Brianna.
Brianna had enrolled at Missouri State University in Springfield after graduating in 2016, Dawson said.
Saleena graduated last spring and was taking classes at Metropolitan Community College at Maple Woods. She had plans to soon join Brianna at Missouri State, Senzee said.
After word of their deaths spread through Kearney, Dawson said, about 25 friends met to mourn together Tuesday evening.
“We sat there for a few hours. They both had a huge impact on the community,” Dawson said.
A prayer vigil, open to the community, will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, 205 N. Forest Ave. in Liberty.
The community also rallied together to raise funds for funeral costs.
Chase Davis started a GoFundMe page that raised more than $12,000 as of Wednesday morning for the two affected families.
Davis is close friends with one of the Luft brothers.
“After I grieved for a couple minutes, I was like, ‘You know, I’m going to do something to help these families,’” Davis said.
The initial goal was to raise just a few hundred dollars for flowers and other expenses, but the community’s generosity far surpassed the goal, he added.
According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, the truck struck a guardrail and slid along it for more than 200 feet, slid on top of the barrier for another 150 feet and then plummeted off the bridge.
Lisa Luft was wearing a seat belt, but the other three were not, according to the patrol’s report, which cited poor weather conditions as the cause of the crash.
“It just takes my breath away,” Melinda Laffey Cunningham wrote on Facebook. “Unimaginable heartbreak.”
Shelbie Langford described Brianna as her first friend, someone who taught her to treat others with kindness. She said it is “so hard for me to grasp ... that she’s actually gone.”
“The world is slightly less bright without all of them in it.”