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Ellsworth, River Falls mourn teen victim of fatal crash

Ellsworth High School is mourning the loss of student Kyra Hayes, a junior who had dreams of becoming a doctor. (Photo courtesy of Ellsworth High School principal Mark Stoesz)1 / 2
Kyra Hayes, 16, of Beldenville and a student at Ellsworth High School, died in a car crash in the town of Troy Friday, Oct. 21. She was thrown from the vehicle when it rolled several times. (Herald photo by Gretta Stark)2 / 2

ELLSWORTH -- Ellsworth High School is mourning the loss of a student who died in a town of Troy car crash Friday, Oct. 21.

Kyra Hayes, Beldenville, was northbound on Highway 35 when she swerved off the road to avoid being struck by another motorist on her cellphone, according to new information released Monday by St. Croix County authorities.

A  crash investigation later found Hayes, 16, was wearing a seatbelt. An initial sheriff’s office report indicated she was not buckled.

Deputies said Hayes was driving northbound in a 2004 Oldsmobile Bravada that left the roadway at 3:21 p.m. and crashed in the median in the 400 block of Highway 35. Hayes was thrown from the vehicle, which rolled several times during the crash.

Preliminary investigation of the crash, however, revealed Hayes’ vehicle was nearly struck by another northbound vehicle moments before the crash. The driver of that car, identified by authorities as 21-year-old Makellia S. Jensen, was witnessed with both hands on a cellphone “seconds before the crash,” according to the release.

Jensen’s vehicle “drifted into the lane occupied by Hayes, causing Hayes to take evasive action” and crashing, according to the release, which states the vehicles did not make contact with each other.

Deputies said Jensen, of Big Lake, Minn., turned around after the crash and returned to the scene. She and a passenger, 22-year-old Minneapolis resident Kalen L. Chase, were not injured.

The crash, which remained under investigation Monday, was the fifth traffic fatality of 2016 in St. Croix County.

The sheriff’s office did not state what, if any, consequences Jensen might face as a result of the incident.

River Falls firefighters, River Falls EMS workers and Wisconsin State Patrol troopers assisted deputies at the scene.

'Excellent student'

Ellsworth High School principal Mark Stoesz said Hayes was a wonderful student.

“She was an excellent student, and was just a really wonderful school citizen for us,” Stoesz said. “And she was a good kid that was very willing to help others and very active in music and theatre, and we’re going to miss her. She was one of those really positive spirits that was great to have in school.”

Stoesz said Monday was a very difficult day for EHS. Counselors from all the school buildings, and some local clergy used the school library as a base to offer support to students.

Staff also met with the junior class to let them know what had happened.

Stoesz said the high school’s focus Monday was being together, and providing some comfort for students and staff who were close to Hayes.

“They community’s been wonderful,” Stoesz said.

He said school officials have also met with the Hayes family, to support them as much as possible, especially through the visitation and memorial service.

Student-lead memorials for Hayes are planned, and pending, Stoesz said.

Community mourns

In the wake of the crash, an outpouring of support for Hayes’s family has been seen on Facebook.

Hayes’ sister, Rachael, thanked motorists who stopped at Friday’s crash scene.

“Thank you for counting out the compressions,” she 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.”

The following comments were shared on the River Falls Journal’s Facebook page:

  • Beth Goeltz: “Praying for the victim's family and friends. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that they're experiencing tonight..”
  • Krissy Engel: “How horribly sad for her family. Sending prayers.”
  • Other commenters reminded readers to be cautious when driving.
  • Victoria Rae Baggett: “ Always wear your seatbelts... and never be on your phone! This young girl's death was preventable.”
  • Katy Bechtel: “This is horrible. All because of another reckless driver...praying for her family.”
  • Janelle And Travis Niebeling: “I too have had to swerve many times on that same stretch of road for drivers on their phones. So sad and preventable.”
  • Angie Young: “Every morning on same road, whether it's people on phone or putting makeup on. Drives me nuts!”

Hayes’s mother Ione Hayes shared the following message publicly on Facebook:

Funeral services for Kyra will be Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 11 a.m. at Rush River Lutheran Church, rural River Falls. Visitation will be on Tuesday from 3-8 p.m. at Rush River Lutheran Church and one hour prior to the service at church on Wednesday.

Kyra is the daughter of Ione and Luke Hayes. Friends of the family have set up a Go Fund Me page to help with funeral expenses. It can be found at:

RiverTown Multimedia public safety reporter Mike Longaecker contributed to this report

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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