‘We’re going to miss you.’ Those killed in wrong-way crash on tollway remembered at vigil

An Acura TSX crashed head-on into a van carrying a family of six in the westbound lanes at Anthony Road, near rural Riley, around 2 a.m. Sunday, Illinois State Police said.

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Family and friends of the Dobosz family console one another at a memorial balloon launch on Monday night at Oriole Park.

Family and friends of the Dobosz family console one another at a memorial balloon launch on Monday night at Oriole Park.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A group of about 150 people counted down in “true cheer style” Monday night at a Northwest Chicago park as they released balloons in honor of six of the seven people killed in a wrong-way crash on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway over the weekend.

Among those killed were a mom, Lauren Dobosz, 31, her four children and another child who was a family friend. Dobosz’s husband, Tom, was airlifted to a hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

An Acura TSX crashed head-on into a van carrying the Dobosz family in the westbound lanes at Anthony Road, near rural Riley, around 2 a.m. Sunday, Illinois State Police said. The family, who lived in Rolling Meadows, and friend were on their way to a vacation in Minnesota, friends said Monday.

Both vehicles caught fire, killing the driver and sole occupant of the Acura, Jennifer Fernandez, 22, of Carpentersville, state police said.

Also killed were the Dobosz children: Ella, 5; Nicholas “Nicky,” 7; Lucas, 8; and Emma, 13; and Kat, 13, a family friend.

Dozens who know the family gathered Monday night at Oriole Park, home of the Falcons, a junior football team for which Lauren Dobosz coached cheerleading and Tom Dobosz helped the cheer and football teams, as well as run concessions and maintain parts of the park.

“Five, six, seven, eight,” the crowd chanted before releasing a few hundred red, black and white balloons — the Falcons’ team colors — and some cheetah-print balloons because Lauren Dobosz “loved her some cheetah,” said cheer director Ryan Cooper.

“They were hard-working people and just always around, [the life] of the party — always there to cheer everybody up, help everyone out, bring everyone together,” Cooper said, as she and others emphasized the couple’s selflessness and their children’s love and liveliness.

“The kids were amazing children — just full of life and energy, and their faces and voices will be with us forever,” Cooper said. “Our children who have friendships with them and have spent time with them on these cheer and football teams will cherish those memories forever.”

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Family, friends and community members gather for a memorial and balloon release for Lauren Dobosz and her four children at Oriole Park on Monday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Kat was not a Falcon cheerleader, Cooper added, but a Falcon supporter who “was a staple here” and was “very kind-hearted.”

Cooper said the organization’s motto of “Once a Falcon, always a Falcon” means much more now.

Luis Hernandez, an Oriole Park Falcons football coach, said the Dobosz family leaves a lasting legacy on the organization. He said coaching Lucas for one season and coaching Nicky for just two days “made a huge impact on my life.”

He added that Nicky told him, “When I get back from Minnesota, Coach, I can’t wait to come back and practice.”

“Those words will stick with me forever, and we’ll always, always, always keep their names alive. This family will always be in our hearts; they are OPF for life, and they are family,” Hernandez said.

“Once you come here, you’re family and you’re accepted for life. We may be a little dysfunctional, but at the end of the day, at the end of the day ... ” Hernandez said, as he began to cry.

“Once a Falcon, always a Falcon,” someone shouted from the back of the crowd, completing Hernandez’s remarks.

The Oriole Park Falcons started in 1992 by John and Sharon Swank.

“We’re lifers. We’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of children come through here,” Sharon Swank said as her husband added the program has “never had anything like this happen before.”

“Lauren took all of our jerseys, washed them at her house. Tom ran our concession stand,” John Swank said. “They were very much involved, they were part of this family. This is going to be tough for us. I mean they were so involved with everything.”

The team began an online fundraiser to help the family, which has raised more than $57,000 as of Monday night, surpassing a $50,000 goal.

“Lauren always made a great impression on everyone she met,” the fundraiser’s organizer, Lisa Torres, wrote. She “was full of life, laughter, and always a good time. We’re going to miss you Lauren and your spunky, sweet, sassy kids.”

A spokeswoman for Illinois State Police did not release more information on the crash, citing a “very active and ongoing investigation.”

Lauren Dobosz (left) was a cheer coach for the Oriole Park Falcons on the Northwest Side of Chicago. She’s pictured here with her family.

Lauren Dobosz (left) was a cheer coach for the Oriole Park Falcons on the Northwest Side of Chicago. She’s pictured here with her family.

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