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SWEET HOME, Ore. – It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: an early morning call or knock on the door to inform you your child has been in a wreck.
Early Saturday morning, Sweet Home father Jim Simonis got the call all three of his children had been in a wreck caused by an alleged drunk driver.
Austyn Hillsman, 21, of Junction City was charged with manslaughter and more in the crash that killed two of the teenagers.
Now, Simonis is staying by the side of his youngest daughter, who survived the crash.
“My kids, anybody who knows my kids knows they never did anything alone, they were always together,” he said.
That morning, they were returning home after taking their injured dog Darby to their mom, Amy, who is a vet in Brownsville.
They never made it home, and Simonis got the call.
“And she just said, Jim, it’s really bad, it’s really, really bad,” he said.
Simonis went numb and went to the scene. His 19-year-old son Caleb had died, and 16-year-old Shelby and 15-year-old Kylee were rushed to RiverBend Hospital in Springfield.
Soon Simonis was told Shelby didn’t make it, and he needed to tell Kylee.
“I just grabbed her hand, and I told her Caleb Frank and Shelby Rose both died, and she said, ‘Daddy, I want to cry but I can’t move my chest,’ and she said, ‘But we told each other we loved each other, and we just kept telling each other we loved each other,’” Simonis said.
Simonis said as farm kids and working with animals, they’re no strangers to death.
For various reasons, Caleb saved Kylee’s life, Simonis said. Caleb was sensitive and quiet, always watching out for and supporting his sisters.
“Caleb would be 20 on the ninth of June, and even at that age there was never a show they went to or a trip to the feed store that Caleb Frank wasn’t there. He was never asked, he was just there,” Simonis said.
Shelby was all about animals, and Simonis said since she was 12, she was considered the family matriarch.
“She was the one that bound our family. She was a peacemaker,” he said.
The youngest, Kylee, is headstrong.
“And out of all three kids, I think if one can survive this, it’s her because she’s stronger than everyone else,” Simonis said.
He said the three of them were his dream. He never grew up saying he wanted to be a firefighter or police officer. His story was he always wanted to be a dad. And in recent years found himself telling the children that story more and more.
“I’ve told my kids at least a hundred times the story of me only wanting to be a dad, and I thanked them, straight out, for letting me be their dad,” he said.
He said they would call him old and sappy. He called them his dream.
“And I achieved that,” he said.
At this time, there are no plans for a memorial service. That will wait until Kylee is out of the hospital.
Simonis said he’s grateful for the help and support they have received and for the Future Farmers of America family for wrapping its arms around his family.