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IRHS crash victims remembered

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Posted: Tuesday, April 6, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Groups of teen-agers quietly filed into church pews at Resurrection Lutheran Church on Thursday.

They lined sanctuary walls and overflowed into the foyer, squeezing together to say "goodbye" to Jessica Kleya, 16, one of the two Ironwood Ridge High School students who died in a single-car accident days earlier.

Her funeral was Thursday, March 25, and Alisa Wallendorf's was Friday, March 26.

"My job is to give you some words of comfort," the Rev. Sue Sauerberg, told the gatherers.

Some of them remembered gathering for comfort just seven months ago when a car accident killed three other high school students in the Northwest - one from Canyon del Oro, one from Amphi, and one from Ironwood Ridge - and injured three others.

That accident had involved drunken driving.

The crash that killed Kleya and Wallendorf just involved driving really fast - 75 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone at 9:30 p.m. March 19 in the 3500 block of West Sumter Drive, according to Dawn Barkman, a spokesperson for the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

Friends blanketed the accident site with letters, stuffed animals and flowers. They sought solace from the extra psychologists on hand at Ironwood Ridge in the following days.

At Kleya's funeral, Sauerberg said terrible accidents will happen because people have freedom to make choices.

"It's a big, awesome, all-encompassing gift," Sauerberg said. "Sometimes we think it can be a curse."

Several getherers or rose to tell "Jessica stories" at the funeral. With moist cheeks, fond laughter, and sometimes both, they reminisced about the lover of gymnastics who had abs of steel and membership in the mock club, Blonde Mafia.

"She was the type of teen-age girl everybody wanted to be," her friend Ashley Shipman said.

Shipman told the gatherers she was lucky that she got to have a meaningful conversation with her friend only days before she died.

The two had been drifting apart for a month because their class schedules clashed, she said. But then Kleya showed up in the cafeteria one day and knelt down by her. She said she'd reread some old notes they had exchanged. She said they made her sad.

The friends cried. They said they missed each other.

"That was the last time I talked to her," Shipman said.

Kleya's family members didn't speak at her funeral. Her sister Katie and her dad wrote letters, though, which the pastor read.

"I loved waking up each morning with you in the next room," her sister wrote.

"I had so many things to share with you," her dad wrote.

Before the service ended, Sauerberg urged gatherers who couldn't imagine life without Jessica to just work on getting through that day.

"We only get a day at a time, and yet people try to plan their lives so far in advance," she said.

Then, many young eyes fixed on the closed casket as it rolled out of the sanctuary.

On Friday, a crowd gathered at Immanuel Presbyterian Church to say "goodbye" to Wallendorf, 15.

Teen-agers and adults overflowed into a sunny courtyard, where outdoor speakers amplified the service and a jug of ice water gave relief from the heat.

Inside, the Rev. Fred Wood addressed the death of a spirited teen-age girl.

"This is not supposed to happen," he said.

He told her parents he admired their protectiveness, but said protectiveness doesn't always keep terrible accidents from happening.

"In terms of their safety, there's only so much you can do," he said.

Several Alisa admirers stood up to tell stories about their friend - a vivacious teen-ager with a sparkly smile, a cell phone at her ear, bottles of fingernail polish cluttering her bathroom, and a church member's toddler perpetually on her hip.

She was the kind of person who would, and did, write in her church camp journal, "It's important to take care of people, just 'cause it's what we were put on earth to do," Wood said.

Her brother, Robert Wallendorf, read a poem that he had written for her, celebrating her roles as stepsister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, girlfriend.

"Sweet dreams to the girl that couldn't wait to drive," he read. "Sweet dreams to that passenger, as in heaven she now resides."

Phil Rogers, an uncle, told gatherers he was lucky to have spent spring break with Alisa just days before she died.

She had traveled to his home in Iowa. While Tucsonans applied sunscreen back home, she threw snowballs in flip-flops.

"She lived life to the fullest," he said.

That week, the uncle and her niece sat down at the kitchen table and had a long conversation about how hard it is to be a teen-ager in the modern world, Rogers said. They talked about the dreaded parental phrase, "because I told you so."

"The way I explained it is that there are mile markers or speed signs or maybe a curve," Rogers said. "Someone has been there before you and wants to say 'danger.'"

He said his niece smiled politely.

Flying down West Sumter Drive at breakneck speed was a rite of passage, Rogers said - an adventure the teen-ager wasn't going to miss.

"It sounds like big fun," he said. "My niece was going to be there."

Rogers said his niece's family might never move out of their grief. He said they wanted no more tragedies. He asked the crowds of teen-agers to take care of themselves.

"She was full of life, and it can be over so quickly," he said. "Let this game on the hill end."

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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