Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Community mourns teenager

Valentine’s Day accident on U.S. 24-40 claims life of Tonganoxie resident

February 21, 2007

Three days before she died, Amanda Bixby sang one of her favorite songs during all three services at Tonganoxie Christian Church.

At her funeral Monday afternoon, Amanda's family and friends watched Amanda sing the song one last time -- through a videotape made Feb. 11 at her church.

Amanda's life was cut short by a three-car accident on Valentine's Day. At 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, she was headed home from work, driving west on U.S. Highway 24-40 at 158th Street. The Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office said Ricardo De-Leon Flores, 20, Lansing, the driver of a northbound Toyota 4Runner, failed to yield at the stop sign. His car struck a Dodge Durango driven by Bill Nichols, Basehor, and then it struck Amanda's Ford Taurus.

Amanda, just two months shy of her 20th birthday and the only child of Dennis and Denise Bixby, died at the scene.

Flores was cited for vehicular homicide, failure to yield and no driver's license. Prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine whether charges will be filed.

According to the Sheriffs Office, in the third vehicle were Nichols, and four passengers, his wife, Dawn, their son Juston, 15, and family friends Katelynn and Shelby Witt, ages 16 and 14, Basehor. The five had attended a freshman boys basketball game at Basehor-Linwood High School and were on their way to their homes.

Tuesday, Curtis Witt, Katlynn's father, said Katelynn suffered severe injuries to her left foot. She remains a patient at Kansas University Hospital where, her father said Tuesday, doctors are not sure whether they'll be able to save the girl's foot. The other four passengers in the vehicle were injured as well. Dawn Nichols was hospitalized at KU Hospital and Juston had a wound on his forehead that required stitches.

Waiting and worrying

Denise Bixby last talked to her daughter at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Amanda called home to say she was leaving Nebraska Furniture Mart, where she'd worked Nebraska Furniture Mart, where she'd worked the past 1 1/2 years. Her mother knew if Amanda came straight home she would have been there by 9:30 p.m.

When 10 o'clock came and went, Denise became concerned. She called Amanda's cell phone. She assumed Amanda might have stopped to visit friends along the way and left her phone in her car. But as the minutes passed, Denise became more worried. She continued calling.

About a half-hour later, around 10:30 p.m., the doorbell rang. It was a sheriff's officer.

Along with the devastating news, the officer brought Amanda's purse, which contained her cell phone. The officer had heard it ringing.

"He said, 'I knew it was a parent calling because the phone kept on ringing.'" Denise said.

Born musician

Throughout Amanda's life, music was her love, said her father. He noted that in high school Amanda was a member of Chieftain Singers. In ensembles and solos, Amanda was among those who garnered top scores at state music festivals.

In 2003, she successfully auditioned for the nationally known Continental Singers. On a six-week tour with the group, she performed in 22 states.

Amanda took her music seriously, her father said. Yet she also had fun with it.

"One night we were laying carpet and Amanda was singing 'Count Your Many Blessings,' Bixby said. "It was late at night and we were all a little slaphappy."

Bixby cut his finger, and once everyone realized he was OK, Amanda continued her singing -- with a twist.

"She changed the song to 'Count Your Many Fingers One by One,'" Bixby said, chuckling. "By the end of the evening she had two or three verses written to it."

A better person

Eli Jones and Amanda were close friends. The two had been in Chieftain Singers together and they had attended church together since they were in grade school. Jones, a freshman at Baker University, was a year younger than Amanda.

Jones said in the past months Amanda had focused on living her life for the Lord.

"Just in the way she was talking and through her decisions she was making, you could tell she was getting her life right on track with God's will for her," Jones said.

Jones was shocked last week when his parents called to say Amanda had died.

"It just goes to show how fragile life really is," he said.

Another friend, Lacy Phelps, said Amanda was always nice to those around her. "She was just always smiling," Phelps said.

Everybody liked Amanda, she added.

"She was always full of energy," Phelps said. "And she always had a smile."

Smiles to remember

Valentine's Day will never be the same again. Nor will Easter. Amanda's birthday was April 17 and she was born on Good Friday. Every year Easter was near her birthday.

But happy thoughts from the nearly 20 years the Bixbys spent with their daughter make them smile as always.

There was "Amanda World," her mother said, recalling her daughter's life as an only child.

"We have laughed and laughed because she always told us she lived in Amanda World," Denise said. "In Amanda World everything worked to her advantage and she was always the center of it and everything was always wonderful, and if she wanted to eat brownies for every meal of the day that's what you did."

Community support

Since Wednesday everything has changed.

"It's like the wind has been sucked out of us," Denise said. "But we have a lot of people praying for us."

Friends, old and new, attended Sunday's visitation at the church, where approximately 450 people signed the guest book.

In attendance were friends from out of town, from other churches the family had attended before moving here in 1994, and Amanda's friends and co-workers from Nebraska Furniture Mart, where Amanda was looking forward to moving up in the ranks.

Denise said at least 50 of Amanda's co-workers from Nebraska Furniture Mart attended the visitation.

And Denise said two couples they hadn't previously met attended. One couple was related to the driver of the third car that was in the accident the night Amanda died. The other couple said they were one of the first cars to reach the scene after the accident.

"They said 'We couldn't do anything for her,'" Denise said. "They just stood and cried at her casket and it was so sweet of these two different couples to come when they didn't have to."

Daddy's buddy

"She was my buddy," Dennis said of his daughter.

He called Amanda 'Bullet,' a name that for some reason his father long ago had nicknamed Dennis.

"She wouldn't let anybody but me call her that," Dennis said.

When Amanda was young, she and her father would eat breakfast at Fourth Street Cafe and then they'd go the lumberyard where they'd visit owner Charlie Ussery, whom Amanda fondly referred to as "Uncle Charlie."

Ussery said Monday that Amanda had a special personality.

"She was just always smiling, always happy, just one of the most upbeat people I've ever seen," Ussery said. "She had one of those smiles that you'll never forget."

Her memorable smile, the music she loved, her continuing exploration of her own faith and being friendly to others -- it's what Amanda was all about.

That ties in with the daisies her parents selected for Monday's service. A cascade of pink, white and yellow daisies decked her silver casket.

"Daisies were Amanda's favorite flower," Denise said, explaining that in the movie "You've Got Mail," there was a line about daisies being "friendly flowers."

"Amanda picked up that line when we saw that movie," Denise said, "And after that it was daisies forever because they're 'friendly flowers.'"

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