A mother, her four children and two other people were killed early Sunday when a vehicle was hit head-on by a wrong-way driver along Interstate 90 in McHenry County, according to authorities.
One day after the tragedy, candles and stuffed toys lined the base of a tree outside the Rolling Meadows home where the family lived.
“It is a light, a candle and hopefully up in heaven they’ll see it,” said neighbor Jean Petryniec.
Lauren Dobosz and her four children – Emma, 13, Lucas, 7, Nicholas, 6, and Ella, 5, died when a wrong-way driver slammed into their van on Interstate 90 just west of the Illinois Route 23 interchange near Hampshire at approximately 2:11 a.m.
Both vehicles became engulfed in flames upon impact. Another 13-year-old riding in the van, as well as the driver of the car, died at the scene. The driver was identified as Jennifer Fernandez, 22, of Carpentersville, according to the Illinois State Police.
Thomas Dobosz, 32, who was driving the van, sustained serious injuries and was airlifted to an area hospital.
Neighbors say the family was going on a vacation when the tragedy occurred.
Lauren worked as a bartender at Lulus, a gaming facility down the road from her home in Rolling Meadows.
The establishment’s general manager described the mother of four as a “very friendly” and “outgoing” person – someone he became friends with right away.
“I was shocked,” Kenny Felten said, recounting his response upon learning Lauren and her children died in the crash. “I was shaking, couldn’t believe it. You never think someone you know is going to be part of such a tragic event. Here we are.”
While she was well-liked by her colleagues, Lauren was passionate about, and spent much of her free time, as a cheerleading coach for the Oriole Park Falcons.
“She talked about it a lot, it was a big passion of hers,” Felten said. “We gotta remember her for that. It’s hard right now with everything that’s happened. Not to think about that, but we gotta remember she loved her kids, her family, being a part of their family, raising money for fundraisers and stuff like that .”
Dawn Brand, whose daughter attended school with the two 13-year-old girls, said “everyone is having a very hard time,” adding the “kids are all devastated.”
“I know they were very involved throughout the community,” she stated. “Everyone said they were a very loving family and involved in sports and stuff too. Everyone is taking it very bad.”
Lauren’s cheerleading team set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for funeral expenses, remembering the mother as “full of life and laughter” and her children as “spunky, sweet and sassy.”
“Lauren always made a great impression on everyone she met, she was full of life, laughter, and always a good time,” the team’s post read. “We’re going to miss you Lauren and your spunky, sweet, sassy kids and every so loved friend. We shall shine bright this year. Will miss you!”
Illinois State Police investigators are working to determine why the driver, Fernandez, was going in the wrong direction. Autopsies are expected to take place in the coming days.
Community Consolidated School District 15, which the children attended, said in a news release, “We are simply heartsick, and in both shock and mourning over the tragic loss of five students and one of parents.” Mental health professionals will be present throughout the week to provide assistance to anyone grapping with the loss, according to district officials.
A caregiver support training will also take place Aug. 2 to provide parents and staff with information and support regarding how to help children “during this difficult time,” according to the district.