Car wreck 1996

The heavily damaged car in which four elderly Shakopee women were killed in 1996 in Spring Lake Township

On April 18, 1996, the community of Shakopee was antsy. There had been a bad car wreck off County Road 17 and Highway 282 in Spring Lake Township at about 11:30 a.m. It was the kind of crash that made those who drove by call their loved ones to make sure they were OK.

It happened a quarter of a century ago, but for the loved ones of the crash victims, it still seems like yesterday.

Toward the evening of that same day, Sharon Luth started to worry. On a normal day her mother, Maxine Heavrin, who lived just down the street from Luth and her family at Shakopee’s Country Village Apartments — would have been in touch with her.

Not far away, Laurie Menke, who lived two miles from the scene of the crash, had stopped at the gas station on her way home from picking her children up from school.

“Did you hear about the crash?” the cashier asked Menke. She hadn’t. Menke thought about driving past the site of the crash, but decided against it. She wanted to make it back for Oprah.

Judy Kirchmeier was sitting on the floor of her Shakopee home going through some papers. The news was playing on the television in the background. When she looked up, she noticed photos of a crash that had occurred nearby. At the same time, Kirchmeier’s son and his then-fiancé were driving to a premarital counseling session when they passed by the scene of the crash.

They had no idea one of the bodies they saw covered was Grandma.

The officers knocked on the doors of the women’s houses late — it was after dark. Some of them had already put their children to bed. Each woman knew as soon as they heard the doorbell: their mothers were in that notorious crash.

On April 18, 1996, Viola Roy, 75; Maxine Heavrin, 73; Victoria Laddusaw, 76; and Jeanette High, 86 — all of Shakopee — were killed after colliding with a flatbed truck carrying cement blocks. The friends, along with driver Mona Collins of Prior Lake, who survived the crash, were headed to try a new restaurant called The Fishtail in New Prague for lunch.

Three of the women — Viola Roy, Jeanette High and Maxine Heavrin — lived at Country Village Apartments in Shakopee. Victoria Laddusaw lived nearby on Vierling Drive. Mona Collins was on the waiting list to move into Country Village.

All four of the women killed attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shakopee, where three of them were buried.

The crash shook the community. Many people who lived in and around Shakopee had at least one connection to one of the women who died in the crash, some of the daughters who recently spoke to the Valley News said as they recalled the incident. Even the daughters of the victims vaguely knew of each other through mutual community connections prior to the day their mothers died together.

According to the 1996 Shakopee Valley News article following the crash:

The women who died together in the crash also spent much of life together. They lived near one another, dined, played cards and socialized together. By all accounts they had a lot of love to share, including with one another.

Viola Roy became a widow about two years prior to the crash, said her daughter-in-law Judy Roy, and since getting to know the other women in her apartment complex, she’d recently begun to socialize again.

“The caretaker at the apartment said they were all smiling and waving when they left,” Judy Roy said.

Mary Jo Lebens, daughter of Victoria Laddusaw, said her mother was “a very sociable woman. She constantly had a card game going or someone over to the house for a meal. She was the pie baker in the family. And she was always making fudge for someone.”

When family members went to Laddusaw’s house after learning of her death, they weren’t surprised to find a big pot of soup on the stove.

Jeanette High, 86, had only resided in Shakopee for 19 months, but being the sociable and independent person she was, it didn’t take long for her to make new friends and keep up her active lifestyle, said daughter Judith Kirchmeier.

“She always had a smile on her face and a funny story to tell,” said her daughter. Even though she was in constant pain due to a pinched nerve, “when someone came to her and said, ‘let’s go,’ she went.”

Maxine Heavrin constantly talked about the other three women and all the fun they had together, her daughter Sharon Luth said. Luth knew her mother was well-liked, but was surprised by how many people responded to her death.

“I’ve got cards from people who told me what my mother did for them, like giving someone a ride, or helping them out in some way,” Luth said.

Though it’s been 25 years, those who were close to the victims of the crash said it changed their lives forever. And every year on April 18, they remember the day as if it were yesterday.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.