A grieving community Monday began to mourn and raise funds for five members of a Rolling Meadows family who were killed along with another child in their van and the driver of an oncoming car traveling in the wrong direction on I-90 in McHenry County early Sunday.
Meanwhile, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 announced counseling services to help the community cope with the tragic loss of the mother and five students.
Troopers responded at 2:11 am Sunday to the scene near Hampshire, where a 2005 Chevrolet van and a 2010 Acura TSX were engulfed in flames.
Six passengers in the van were killed: 31-year-old Lauren Dobosz of Rolling Meadows, her four children — 13-year-old Emma, 7-year-old Lucas, 6-year-old Nicholas and 5-year-old Ella — and another 13-year-old girl who was a family friend.
The driver of the Acura, 22-year-old Jennifer Fernandez of Carpentersville, also died.
The driver of the van, 32-year-old Thomas Dobosz of Rolling Meadows, was flown by helicopter to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood with serious injuries.
State police said that “for unknown reasons,” the Acura was traveling east in the westbound lanes of I-90 and struck van head-on.
Lauren and Tom Dobosz were active with the Oriole Park Falcons, a youth travel football and cheer program on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
Ryan Cooper, cheer director of the Falcons, said, “I coached with Lauren for a few years, and after I took over the program as cheer director, she was my right hand.”
She added that Lauren was part of the backbone of the program, helping with coaching and gifts for the parents and coaches as well as being a football mom.
“She always made sure our boys had everything they needed for their game,” Cooper said. “Lauren was a people person. She thought of everybody before herself. She made sure everyone was taken care of.”
Cooper said Tom was the “best cheer dad we ever got,” adding that he took over one of the concession stands to ensure the kids had cold water and hot food.
Ryan said the couple “were always hands-on. They were always willing to do everything they needed to do for the program, for the kids.”
She said Tom was a handyman, “which was what he did best.”
Friends said the family and their oldest daughter’s friend were setting off for a vacation in Minnesota Sunday.
Balloons were released into the sky above Oriole Park on Monday night, many sticking to the trees and one, shaped like a heart, hovering above the large group that heard the many speakers paying tribute.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t cry tonight. This is a celebration of life,” said Luis Hernandez, one of the Falcons coaches.
“In the short time these kids were alive, they made a huge impact on all of us here. I coached Lucas last year, and let me tell you, one season made a huge impact on my life. And I coached Nicky for two days That little boy told me, ‘When I get back from Minnesota, Coach, I can’t wait to come back and practice.’ Those words will stick with me forever, and we will always keep their names alive.”
Other speakers included Ashley Siek, who was a cheerleader at Ridgewood High School with Lauren, and Lauren’s younger brother,
HAS GoFundMe accountset up to raise funds for funeral expenses, contained a message from the Oriole Park Falcons, saying, “It is with heavy heart that we announce the passing of our beloved cheer coach Lauren Dobosz, alongside her beautiful kids Emma, Lucas, Nicholas and Ella and graceful friend Kat.”
Mourners at the memorial service Monday night further identified Kat as Katriona Koziara, Emma’s friend from Rolling Meadows.
Natalia Lenkiewicz of Rolling Meadows said Kat moved to the United States from Scotland when she was 8 years old and was a talented breakdancer.
“She was one of a kind,” Lenkiewicz said.
By Monday evening, the GoFundMe campaign had raised nearly $47,000 of its $50,000 goal.
The Rolling Meadows Police Department is also accepting donations online for the local victims of the crash. Its fundraiser, called the RMPD Hope Fund, had received about $8,000 of a $100,000 goal as of Monday evening and is located at gofundme.com/f/rmpd-hope-fund.
District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz addressed the school community Sunday and Monday with statements pledging the support of the district’s resources in the grieving process.
“We are simply heartsick, and in both shock and mourning over the tragic loss of five students and one of our parents,” Heinz wrote. “Our efforts right now are focused on offering support to our entire community, with special emphasis on Willow Bend Elementary, Central Road Elementary, and Carl Sandburg Junior High where the students attended school.”
Heinz added that support is also being offered to the teachers and staff who knew the students well.
“In-person, virtual, or drop-in support for students, their families, and staff is being offered by trained District 15 mental health professionals through the rest of this week,” Heinz continued. “In addition, a Caregiver Support training will be available and held on Tuesday, Aug. 2, for both staff and parents. This training will provide parents and staff with information on reactions to be aware of and how to support children and themselves during this hard time.”
Comfort dogs also will be available at the Tuesday meeting for additional support.
“It goes without saying that this is a devastating loss for all of us here in District 15, especially as we look to the start of the new school year when their absences will be deeply felt,” Heinz wrote.
• Daily Herald staff writers Alice Fabbre and Doug T. Graham contributed to this report.