Coworkers wear black to remember woman killed in wrong-way DWI crash
Sunday, March 10, 2013
With heavy hearts, the staff at Lutz’s Famous BBQ in Jefferson City wore black to work on Friday in memory of their friend and coworker, Chelsea Fredrickson.
Fredrickson, 19, was killed Wednesday night when a Columbia man, 28-year-old Dennis Leporin, drove east in the westbound lanes of U.S. 54 near the Missouri 179/Route B interchange. On Thursday, Cole County prosecutors named Leporin in five criminal charges: second-degree murder, second-degree assault and driving while intoxicated — all felonies — plus two misdemeanors, driving while his license was revoked and driving the wrong way on a highway.
Joe Lutz, who helps manage the restaurant on Missouri Boulevard, said the loss has been devastating for the restaurant’s small, but close, staff.
“There’s only nine of us. We don’t have people coming and going everyday. So the people who work here, work here for years,” Lutz said.
Simply saying the young woman — a slender brunette who often worked the register — will be missed isn’t enough, he said.
“She had an infectious personality. She was always smiling,” he said.
Lutz added that Fredrickson’s coworkers — particularly assistant manager Amanda Long, who took the 19-year-old under her wings — enjoyed seeing her flourish. “Amanda became almost like an older sister or mother to Chelsea. It wasn’t only an investment in an employee. It was a personal investment in an individual,” Lutz said.
Fredrickson had been employed full-time at Lutz’s since June 2012.
When she first came in the door as a prospective employee, her willingness to show up early for an 8 a.m. appointment made a positive first impression. “We all just enjoyed being around her. She was an excellent employee,” Lutz said.
Lutz said the small crew saw one another on numerous social occasions and grew to know one another well. “She wanted to be a photographer. She took pictures where ever we would go,” he said.
Lutz, who is in his late 40s, was particularly distraught to think of all the happy experiences Fredrickson, and those who knew her, will now miss out on because of her untimely death. He said it’s easier to understand when an older person passes away, but it’s harder to accept when a person Fredrickson’s age dies.
“When you think, ‘I would’ve been at her wedding’ or ‘I would have met her kids,’ it really hits home. There’s no tomorrow. You don’t get a second chance. It’s hard to comprehend that,” he said.
“There’s no way to comprehend or justify it. It’s just devastating.”
He lamented that Wednesday’s wreck was entirely avoidable. “There no reason for it to have ever occurred, It was a totally avoidable situation. It’s random. If she had been in a different place, five minutes, one way or another, it never would have happened to her,” he said.
The barbecue restaurant will close at 2 p.m. Tuesday so that staff can attend Fredrickson’s memorial service.
The Celebration of Life service is scheduled from 4-7 p.m. at Rock House Church in Linn Creek.