Sunflowers. There’s a reason they were perfectly suited to Maddie Kruse’s personality. It was said that her smile was radiant. She was a well-rounded young lady with a bubbly personality: a talented athlete who also had a penchant for writing poetry. She was an excellent shortstop and an integral part of the Briarcrest Christian School Softball team. And even though she had played golf competitively for the first time her junior year, she amazed everyone, except maybe her Dad, when she qualified for state!
Maddie was very close to her family and loved spending time with them. She treasured her roots and loved Iowa where her grandparents on both sides and many extended family members still live. When the family moved to Tennessee, she and her younger brother, Jack, formed an especially strong bond of friendship, counting on each other as they settled into their new lives and learned to make new friends in an unfamiliar environment. But, it didn’t take long for Maddie. She loved her new school and was soon surrounded by tons of friends.
She was excited about her senior year and had big plans for the future. Though she had barely finished her junior year, Maddie was already set on attending the University of Missouri after high school.
As the start of the summer began, she joined a group of friends on a beach trip to celebrate one of their 18th birthdays. The birthday girl’s grandmother had volunteered to chauffer the foursome. They left at about 6am on Sunday, May 31, 2015. Maddie, sitting in the back row of the mini-van they were driving, had dozed off, getting comfortable for the long drive ahead of them. But they had only been on the road about 30 minutes when a repeat offender with five DUI convictions rear-ended them, flipping the van, and sending it crashing into a utility pole. He was out on bond for a sixth DUI arrest and blew a .14 after the crash which made this his 7th DUI.
Maddie was killed, along with Rachel Lynch who was also seated in the back row. Kara Holden suffered a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Caroline Kam, the birthday girl, and her grandmother, Roxanne Anderson, sustained minor physical injuries, but would bear emotional scars for a lifetime. The crash changed the entire landscape of Briarcrest Christian School and shattered the lives of multiple families.
Maddie’s father, Tedd, said that on the morning of the crash, “We thought we were going to pick Maddie up from the hospital… we had no clue what we were going to experience. We had our precious Maddie senselessly taken from us and we had no clue what to do.” Her mother, Dawn, said, “I don’t get to see her fall in love and that breaks my heart.”
Friends, family, and an entire community were impacted by the tragic loss of such beautiful lives taken so needlessly. In honor of Maddie, Briarcrest dedicated the softball field to her and retired her #4 jersey. (Her brother, Jack, will now always proudly wear the #4 on his football and baseball jerseys, in honor of his sister.) The school also erected a monument to both Maddie and Rachel, quoting Psalms 16:11.
Maddie’s and Rachel’s families have vowed to actively work for reformation of DUI reporting laws that allowed their daughters’ killer to continuously be charged with 1st time DUI offenses as he repeatedly drove drunk. Had he been flagged as a repeat offender and processed as such; harsher bonds, penalties, and even jail time likely would have prevented him from being on the road that fateful morning. They saw their first success in that fight in Tennessee in 2016 and continue to advocate for change in Mississippi and at the federal level.
Maddie’s contagious smile and zest for life is irreplaceable. She impacted those who knew her and countless others who never did. Her story will continue to impact all who hear it and she will not be forgotten!