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Texting Driver May Have Caused Crash That Killed Ellsworth Teen

ELLSWORTH, Wis. (WCCO) -- It's looking more likely that two basic rules of the road have combined to claim yet another young life -- texting while driving and not buckling up.

Sixteen-year-old Kyra Hayes was an outgoing, high achieving and well-liked student at Ellsworth High School in Wisconsin.

Investigators say she was not wearing a seat belt when her vehicle left the highway and rolled on Friday afternoon.

But worse yet, it appears the high school junior was forced off the road by another driver who was texting with both hands and not holding onto the steering wheel.

In Ellsworth on Monday, after school hoops was being played with broken hearts.

"It's going to impact a lot of people here," declared fellow student, Tyler Hetrick.

Hayes was killed Friday afternoon in a rollover accident several miles north of River Falls, Wisconsin along state truck highway 35.

"She was really outgoing and just really nice. Every time I saw her in the hallway she'd say 'hi' to me or be smiling or laughing," said Ellsworth high school sophomore Noah Hetrick.

Hayes had just advanced Friday in her school's regional forensics competition. She loved performing and public speaking and was scheduled to sing a solo in Monday night's fall choir concert.

"If it could have been prevented, I think that's what makes it harder," Noah Hetrick added.

Hayes was heading to work at her family's sandwich shop Friday afternoon and was driving behind a northbound car on Highway 35.  Witnesses say the other driver was weaving and appeared to be texting with both hands on her phone, not on the steering wheel.

Apparently, Hayes swerved to avoid colliding with the other car and lost control of her vehicle. Investigators say she rolled several times and was ejected from the vehicle.

Investigators add that Hayes wasn't wearing a seat belt.

"She simply made our school a better place," Ellsworth High School Principal Mark Stoesz said.

Stoesz said school counselors and local clergy were on hand Monday to help a grieving student body.

"A lot of these kids haven't had to deal with these type of emotions before and I think that's one of our biggest concerns is just helping them deal with their emotions and to be there for them and let them know however they need to express that, it's OK," Stoesz said.

A difficult, and somber lesson in the choices of life -- and the fragility of losing one so promising and young.

"I think it makes you treasure life more, because it's like it could happen -- I mean, just a normal school day, after school she's going to work and then boom, she's not ever coming home again, you know?" Noah Hetrick said.

The school will help students attend Hayes' funeral Wednesday and will tape it to show others who cannot attend.

Meantime, the investigation continues into the 21-year-old driver from Big Lake, identified by the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office as Makellia S. Jensen.

They will be examining Jensen's cell phone records for the evidence that would be needed to support potential texting and driving charges.

Friends of Hayes' have set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help cover funeral expenses.

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