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Three family members gone in an instant because of a distracted driver

On 12/12/2009, we lost three family members due to a teenage driver’s inattentive driving. Shirley Iverson, Debra Iverson Buhmann and Alexis Iverson were all killed in the head on collision. They had all been to the Sunday School Christmas practice. Deb was Lexi’s aunt and also her Sunday school teacher. Earlier that evening, Shirley and Lexi had their picture taken for the church directory. Since it was going to be the first picture Shirley had taken without her beloved husband Jerry (who passed away from cancer 2 ½ years earlier), she had asked Lexi to be in the picture with her. Lexi lived with her Grandma and mom so this seemed very appropriate. 

Deb had dropped off her children Bella (3 years old) and Abby (11 months) with her husband Bill while Shirley, Deb and Lexi ran an errand to Target. They didn’t plan to be gone long. At 6:52 pm, Deb was driving towards home on County Road 50. They were almost to Ipava Avenue when they were hit head on by a teenage driver. All three were killed on impact. The teenage driver was behind the wheel of a Chevy Silverado and Deb was driving an Elantra which is a very small vehicle. 

The teenage driver only had his license for 5 weeks. He was driving without his head lights on and had crossed two lanes of traffic when he hit them. The teenage driver says he doesn’t remember what happened, but due to his lack of remorse, we feel he does know what happened. There has been no justice in our case. The juvenile was charged with one count of careless driving for killing three people. He spent six weekends in juvenile detention and did not have to pay any restitution. Not only did our family have to endure the huge loss of three family members, we then had to suffer through the court hearings and lack of justice due to the current laws in Minnesota. 

Shirley was a beautiful mom, grandma and great-grandma. She was the glue that held the Iverson family together. She was the daycare provider for Bella and Abby. Her death has been extremely hard on our family. We no longer have the big gatherings at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our family has been torn apart.

Deb was a vibrant young mother with two beautiful daughters and a loving husband. She was the youngest of Shirley’s six children and they spent a great amount of time together. They attended the same church and were huge sports fans. They attended many sports games together. After their death we found tickets to a Timberwolves game that they had purchased for 12/26/09. 

Lexi was eight years old when she was killed. She was a beautiful blonde hair, blue eyed little girl. She loved school and her friends. She was an aunt to her older sister’s children and took pride in helping to take care of them. She loved her Mommy and Grammie very much. We thank God that she did not have to die alone, but with two of the people she loved most. We are sad that we won’t get to see Lexi go to prom or graduate from high school. She was a very young girl with an incredible future. 

The two year anniversary of their deaths just passed. It was a sad time but our family stopped everything at 6:52pm to light a candle and sing Silent Night in their honor and memory. We will continue to fight for greater laws for inattentive and distracted driving and appreciate all the hard work that Minnesotans for Safe Driving are doing to help with this cause.

Written by family member Carol Iverson in memory of her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece.
 

Debra Ann Iverson Buhmann and family
Shirley Ann Iverson
Alexis Rose Iverson
Alexis Rose Iverson
Debra Ann Iverson Buhmann and family
Debra Ann Iverson Buhmann and family

 

Spotlight on MSD volunteers

Carol Iverson – volunteer
The Aftermath of a Crash: The struggle doesn’t end with the funeral or the conviction. Carol’s story of how she is trying to make something positive out of a negative through volunteering.

The crash that caused the death of my mother- in- law, Shirley Iverson, sister- in- law, Debra Buhmann, and niece Alexis Iverson (3 generations of our family) have affected our family in so many ways. When I first received the call that my family members had been killed in a car crash, it was just a complete shock.

I can remember my husband screaming and running in circles and saying, “I need to get to my mom!”  I remember that the weather was very cold and I was worried about him driving on the roads since we lived three hours away from where the crash occurred.  There was no talking Byron out of making the trip until he talked to the coroner who convinced him that he would not be allowed to see his mom at that point and that we didn’t need another fatality on the road.  I can remember praying over and over again that night for it all too just be a horrible dream.

Unless it happens to you, I don’t think anyone can truly understand that you just don’t lose your family members and the rest of your life is the same except those people are missing. There are secondary problems that arise such as financial strains, new and continuing health issues, emotional trauma. Your life will never be the same, ever. I have heard so many times, “well, certainly the settlement (money) helped”.   Actually no, it tore our family apart and didn’t replace anything important.  It put strains on relationships that were not there before.  The glue that held the Iverson family together was ripped away from us in an instance of the crash.  At first I thought I could step in as the glue, but there was no replacing Shirley.

After the crash my husband, children and I spent three weeks in Lakeville.  When we arrived there, the family asked me to be the media spokesperson and Trustee for all three estates.  Of course I couldn’t say no, I needed to be there for the entire family, no matter what the cost.

My first week was spent giving the media interviews, planning the funerals, taking care of Deb’s children; Bella (3 years) and Abby (11 months).   Most of us did not sleep that first week.  I can still see Bella begging me to take her to her mommy and standing in the hallway screaming at the top of her lungs.  She became so lethargic and it was heartbreaking to see her like this.  At one point I could not stand to stay at Shirley’s house anymore and opted to get a hotel room for us.  We took the girls with us so Bill, Deb’s husband, would have some time to himself.  He didn’t know how he would ever be able to take care of the girls on his own.

Once the funerals were over, there was so much to do with the estates, the civil attorney, meeting with the Lakeville police detective and Dakota County Attorney.   During the day I would be over at Bill’s taking care of the girls, would run over to Shirley’s to deal with her estate, looking for daycare for Bella and Abby and trying to figure out how we were going to pay the bills and funeral costs for three people.  I know that God was with me and our family through this, but at times I needed to reel myself in and think about why this happened to our family.  What was the purpose and meaning of all of this?  I never found an answer. During that first week, everyone is so understanding, helpful and compassionate, but as time wore on that changed. The funeral home is calling for money, creditors want to know about the estates, media continues to want to know how we feel about the teenager who killed our family members and everyone starts to lose their patience with each other.  Our civil trial took more than two years to settle. During that time, the family was responsible to find a way to pay for the ongoing expenses.   My family traveled to Lakeville every weekend for four months to help take care of the girls, to get Shirley’s house ready for sale and at times meet with the civil attorney.  We also had to make special trips for meeting with the Dakota County attorney and court appearances for the defendant.  Before the crash, most of us had been living paycheck to paycheck, so this added expense hurt us terribly.

I put so much time in to Bella and Abby that I forgot about my own children and their feelings.  I justified it that my kids were older and they would be ok.  But in reality, they needed their mommy too.  I still hate myself for putting my kids to the side during this time.  When I look back now, they must have been so devastated and needed me.  We all attended counseling and talked through it, but it will be one of the life lessons I learned and wish I could do over.  We never want to hurt our children and I know I did.

Relationships were hurt between family members while going through the civil action and the criminal trial.  I spent hours watching videos and putting together a story showing how much our relationships with Shirley, Deb and Lexi meant to the family.  As our civil attorney told us – we had to prove our relationships.  How sad that not only did we have to keep reliving the pain of it all, but now we had to “prove” that these three people were an important part of our family.  What has this world come to? The legal stuff can be so cruel. All that should have been important was that this teenager drove with his lights off, crossed two lanes of traffic and was in the wrong lane for 8 to 15 seconds before hitting our family head on.  Why did this have to drag out for so long?  Seriously, hadn’t we been through enough.  At times I hated what our attorney and insurance companies were putting us through.  Like so many victims of traffic crashes, we felt that the judicial phase gave us no justice.  Since this teenager wasn’t texting, on his cell phone, drinking or using drugs, we felt that they treated it as just a “bad accident.” He was only charged with one count of careless / inattentive driving for killing three people.  I thought seeing this teenager in court would make me feel some sort of compassion for him.  But it was the opposite.  He seemed to me very cocky.  His mom appeared to totally protect him and he acted as though he didn’t care at all what his actions had done to us.  His sentence was a “slap on the wrist”, six weekends in juvenile detention.

Over two years has passed since the sentencing and we find ourselves thinking about the teenager that killed our family members.  What is he doing with his life?  Did he learn anything from this tragedy?  Our hurt will never end, we can only hope as he matures, that one day he will realize what he took away from the Iverson/Buhmann families.

I realized that I needed to do something for me. I couldn’t bring my loved ones back but I wanted to do what I could to stop it from happening to other families or my family again.  The first thing I did was testify at the legislature for a bill to increase the penalties for a careless driving fatal crash from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. This was not a very satisfying experience but I did meet Nancy Johnson the legislative liaison for Minnesotans for Safe Driving.  She talked to me about my feelings, she also was a victim, and invited me to attend a meeting for Minnesotans for Safe Driving.  I am so grateful to her for extending that olive branch when I really only needed someone to talk to someone who had experienced what I was living through. Nancy and the rest of the members of Minnesotans for Safe Driving helped me to see that I could make a difference in the lives of others through volunteering.  And most importantly, could help in the journey to change the laws for Distracted Driving.  It will be a long road to accomplish that, but if you look at the seatbelt and DWI laws, it took many years to accomplish those changes.  I hope it doesn’t take “many years”, but unless more of us write our legislators and speak out that we want these changes, it won’t happen any time soon.  The leaders of Minnesotans for Safe Driving have given me the courage to tell my family’s story and to become more involved.  I am very grateful to them as an organization and as “friends”.   I still am dealing with lot anger towards the justice system and the person who killed my family members and just anger that they are gone from our life.  But, as time goes on and I am able to convey my feelings when talking to the members of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, it is helping me to work through the steps of anger and grief.  When a tragedy to this extent happens in your life, it is good to know that there are groups and individuals in this world that will put forth the effort to make a difference and also give of their time. Thank you Minnesotans for Safe Driving for all you do and for giving me the opportunity to make a difference in memory of my loved ones – Shirley, Deb and Lexi.
For more on her story go to  our stories