CHICAGO — A Northwest Indiana family is devastated after losing their 19-year-old daughter in a Fourth of July crash due to a driver tailgating and a subsequent head-on collision.
Jake Norris was getting ready to celebrate the Fourth when he got a call from one of his daughter’s friends. His older daughter, Grace Norris, 19, of Demotte, was with her sister Emma, 13, on the way to pick up one of Emma’s friends.
He frantically began calling them.
“My girls always answer,” Norris told WGN News. “I called both about four or five times then I checked Life360. They hadn’t moved in 50 minutes.”
Life360 is an app that lets families track locations of loved ones.
Norris jumped in his car and headed to the scene in the 7000 block of East 117th Avenue in Winfield.
“Pulled up on the scene and saw all the lights,” Norris said. “I saw the coroner’s van and I knew it wasn’t going to be good.”
Authorities believe a 44-year-old Crown Point woman was tailgating a Jeep when she attempted to pass the vehicle over a double yellow line. She then struck the Kia sedan Grace was driving head-on, killing her on impact.
Emma was airlifted in critical condition initially to UIC and then was transported to Comer Children’s Hospital. Her 13-year-old friend Bella, who was picked up before the second friend, was critically injured but is now stable.
Emma has also since stabilized and is on the road to recovery, but Norris said telling his 13-year-old that her big sister was dead has been the toughest moment of his life.
“When they pulled the ventilator out of Emma, the first thing I said was ‘do you know you were in a car accident?'” Norris said. “She said ‘no’ and asked ‘how is Grace? how is Bella?'”
Emma, who is very mature for 13 and the youngest of four daughters, was heavily medicated and family initially wanted to wait until her condition improved to deliver the news, but Norris didn’t want to lie to her.
“We all broke down,” Norris said. “It’s something I never want to go through again.”
Emma was very close with her big sister, someone who dreamed of becoming a nurse. After graduating from Kankakee Valley High School a semester early, she enrolled in a nursing program at Ivy Tech.
The problem at the time was there was only an open spot at their Logansport campus for nursing, around 70 miles away from their home — Grace didn’t care.
“She was so determined to become a nurse,” Norris said. “She would wake up at 3 a.m. for clinicals.”
Since the crash, Norris and family have been inundated with many loving messages about Grace’s character.
“So many friends have been reaching out,” Norris said. “Grace would write letters for friends and say ‘this is for you when you’re having a bad day.’ She was an amazing woman in every aspect.”
Since the crash, Norris has seen several messages online calling for “vengeance” against the driver, who was also hospitalized.
“From the grace of God I don’t look at it like that,” he said. “I take the stance of ‘we are all human, we all make mistakes.’ She didn’t leave her house trying to kill my daughter. I don’t want her to go to jail, I think the guilty feeling a good-standing moral person would feel after causing this accident is punishment enough.”
The family has been waiting for Emma to be released to plan funeral services for Grace. A GoFundMe has raised nearly $20,000 at this time.