By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
An outpouring of support for the family of two teenage siblings killed in an accident lat week is being seen in northwestern Wyoming.
Peiton and Phoenix Hackenberg died in an accident just east of Powell on Feb. 16, when slick roads contributed to a head-on collision with another vehicle as they were driving to school in Lovell.
According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol, 17-year-old Peiton and 15-year-old Phoenix Hackenberg both died in the crash, while the driver and passenger in the other vehicle, 31-year-old Powell resident Brittney Baldridge and 32-year-old Lovell resident Elliott Wittick, were both hospitalized. Wittick remains in a hospital in Billings, Montana. All occupants of both vehicles were wearing their seatbelts.
An outpouring of community support for the Hackenbergs began almost immediately. Although the family lives near Powell, because mom Brenda Hackenberg is a teacher in Lovell, her two youngest children transferred to that school district several years ago. Peiton was an active member of the Lovell cheerleading squad and dance team.
“If you get on the Lovell Cheerleading Facebook group you will see dozens of schools around Wyoming, they all wore purple ribbons for the (Hackenbergs) at their games Friday night,” said Cindy Allred, a Lovell resident who is organizing one of the fundraisers to help the family. “They put their pompoms in a heart and sent pictures. There’s Pinedale and Douglas and Rawlins and Cheyenne East and South. The coach from Utah that taught their state dance routine sent condolences. It is unbelievable.”
Two Facebook groups have been created to help raise money for the family’s expenses. Almost 5,000 people have joined the groups, which feature an auction of donated items organized by friends and family.
And other, more personal moments over the weekend honored the two young people.
“Wild Edge Printing, the T-shirt place here in Lovell, they printed up 100 T-shirts for all the ball players and the cheerleaders and the dancers to wear in remembrance,” Allred told Cowboy State Daily. “They also printed up a whole bunch of other shirts for sale before the games Friday night, and $8 from every T-shirt will be donated to the Hackenbergs. They had big picture boards of the kids, they had big poster boards where you could write notes to the family. They took donations.
“Before every game they did a moment of silence, the cheerleaders had their megaphone and the pompom for Peiton just sitting in the lineup with them alone,” Allred continued. “The dancers are making up a dance just for Peiton and they’re going to dance this Thursday night at senior night for her.”
One of the Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers who worked the crash scene posted a video on Facebook about the difficulty he had dealing with the tragic loss of these two young people.
“In this job, we see a lot of things that most people don’t have to see, and we deal with a lot of things that most people don’t have to deal with,” said Trooper Randy Davis. “Normally, we say, well, it’s part of the job. We try not to let it bother us. The difference in this one was, I knew these two kids, I know their family, I’ve gone to church with them and their family. And it hits you a little differently sometimes when you’re close to the situation.”
The Hackenberg family has seen its share of loss in recent years. Mother Brenda has been raising all four of her children alone since the death of her husband in 2017. Peiton and Phoenix were the youngest.
For the community, the loss of the Hackenberg siblings came just days after another young person from Lovell, 21-year-old Brenda Timmons, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Hawaii.
“We were still reeling from that when these two kids were killed,” Allred said. “So support has come for all of the children, all three of them. There’s bank accounts set up for both families.”
Services for the two Hackenberg children were held on Saturday morning, with live streaming available for those who couldn’t make it.
“The service was packed, overflowing,” Allred said. “This is the first day I have not cried, it has been hard.”
A fundraiser has also been set up to help with medical expenses for Brittney Baldridge and Elliott Wittick, the occupants of the other vehicle involved in the Feb. 16 crash.
To donate to the Hackenberg family, click on the Help the Hackenbergs Facebook group.