TRAGEDY BEFALLS HERMANN AND RHINELAND - Two local young people die in a head-on collision
February 12, 2013 - 7:27pm — By Jeff Noedel
by Jeff Noedel
Two Hermann-area young people were killed in a head-on collision on Hwy. 100 East, near the top of "Etlah Hill" between the Etlah Hwy. B and the Grant School Rd.
Dead are Austin Lee Van Booven, 21, of Rhineland and Amanda Lee Witthaus, 27, of Hermann. They were each the drivers; there were no passengers in either car.
The accident was dispatched by Franklin County 911 at about 4:40 p.m. today.
According to an official report by the Mo. State Highway Patrol, Witthaus' black 2011 Hyundai was traveling westbound (toward Hermann) on Hwy. 100, having just come over the crest of the hill. Van Booven's 2005 silver Chevy Malibu was going eastbound (toward New Haven). The Patrol concluded Van Booven's car crossed the center line; the vehicles hit fully head-on.
Both young people were pronounced dead on the scene by New Haven Ambulance personnel.
The Van Booven family came to the accident scene.
The scene was worked by three State Troopers, one Franklin County deputy, New Haven EMS, and the New Haven-Berger Fire Protection District.
Firemen closed Hwy. 100 and rush hour traffic in both directions was diverted over the narrow Grant School Rd. The highway remained closed until about 8:00 p.m.
The shocking accident is sure to shake the Hermann and Rhineland communities to their foundations as both young people were very popular, from large Hermann-area families.
On a Facebook page tonight, Karen Hart wrote, "Heavy hearted tonight. God be with our town."
Geri Howe wrote, "Today GOD has tested our faith again with our community asking why repeatedly. He has called Austin and Amanda home to sit at his side leaving us here to question his love for us and why he causes us such pain. Please keep the Van Booven and Witthaus families in your prayers.
Seth Witthaus wrote, "I'm tired and numb and can't process all the emotion I'm feeling..."
Wyatt Schaefer wrote, "I guess they meant it when they said the good die young."
News of the accident began to spread through Rhineland and Hermann in the 5:00 o'clock hour tonight. By 6:00 p.m., the identities of the two accident victims had spread through Hermann's highly efficient grapevine.
Two members of the Gasconade County R-1 School Board have relatives in the accident. Superintendent Dr. Chris Neale told CNL at noon today that tonight's school board agenda was very busy. But when the group convened at 7:00 p.m., they conducted two official items that could not be postponed, and the rest of the school board meeting was canceled.
Van Booven was a talented, popular, competitive high school athlete who graduated HHS in 2010. Tonight many Hermannites were at an HHS home basketball game. Principal Gary Leimkuehler opened the high school auditorium, in case any students felt the need to escape the gymnasium and be in a place for quiet reflection, prayer, and grieving. Outside the high school, some people were hugging and crying.
RIGHT: 2010 JEFF NOEDEL PHOTO
Even though he graduated almost three years ago, Van Booven was still a virtual icon of Hermann High School. Students and staff will struggle with the loss Wednesday, reminiscent of the incredible pain visited on the high school from three fatal car wrecks of two students and one recent graduate last school year. At the scene of tonight's tragedy, the first sign of a Hermann connection was the fact that Van Booven was wearing a Bearcats sweatshirt, a firefighter told CNL.
The pain in Hermann will be doubled this week, as the town also mourns Witthaus, who was a smart young woman with a bright future. She graduated Southeast Missouri State University in 2008 with a degree in Administrative Systems Management. She was on the University's Dean's List. She had just become engaged to be married. She, too, was a Bearcat, a graduate of HHS.
For some, the pain will feel tripled, since many people were friends with both of the outgoing young people, for there are many ways the two large families are linked. Tonight, the two families in two counties are linked in unimaginable grief.
JEFF NOEDEL PHOTOS BELOW
CNL will publish few photos, ever, from tonight's tragedy. No photos from up-close. It is CNL's longstanding policy to minimize photos of accident scenes where people died at the accident scene. This policy is meant to minimize additional suffering of loved ones, and to protect the dignity of the deceased.
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