Families, scouts gather to remember 9-year-old killed in crash

They're remembering 9-year-old Mackenzie Van Eperen with memory stones and supporting her family with meals and donations
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:22 AM CDT
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COMBINED LOCKS, Wis. (WBAY) - People from Kimberly and Combined Locks are rallying around a young family in the wake of tragedy. Nine-year-old Mackenzie Van Eperen was walking her bike when she was struck and killed by a semi-truck near the intersection of Wallace and Washington streets Friday afternoon.

Cards, toys, pinwheels are part of a memorial near the intersection to honor a vibrant life taken too soon.

“It is very scary to think that my kids may someday have to walk down that road to get home from school,” Ashley Milhaupt said.

Parents of Mackenzie’s friends and Jansenn Elementary classmates say it will be a while before the tight-knit neighborhood recovers from losing her. They say telling their kids was the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do.

Matt Tennessen wiped away tears as he told us, “My daughter has to ask if she’s in heaven. That’s not fair for our 9-year-old daughter to have to ask that question.”

“My heart sank. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say,” Milhaupt said.

Milhaupt and Tennessen are part of a group organizing a meal train and donation drive for the family, all while trying to help their own children heal.

Milhaupt had kids in the neighborhood make memory stones.

“Some of them have words to describe Mackenzie, like ‘KIND,’” Milhaupt said.

“Mackenzie loved all colors, so they chose a rainbow,” she added.

Other parents brought their children to the memorial, sharing their memories of a happy little girl who loved softball, reading, Girl Scouts, and her many friends.

“Mackenzie was such a special girl, and she was involved in so much more community and really touched the lives of a lot of people in her short 9 years,”

Even before Mackenzie was struck and killed, parents say they felt this intersection was dangerous, especially with so many children who live nearby, and they want to see change.

“For me, I’m not gonna rest and I’m not gonna stop until somebody does something about that,” Tennessen said.

“We need to look at better safety for our children on the main strip in Kimberly. It’s the only way in and out of town and for our kids to try to cross the intersection. It’s not safe,” Milhaupt said.

Police Capt. David Steffens says he does not expect the driver of the semi to face any charges, calling this a “horrific accident.”