Tragic I-44 crash involving Clever, Mo. children stuns family, friends of victims

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. "I could not fathom that something like this could happen," said Sam Popa, a Sunday school teacher who taught the victims.

"I thought I was dreaming," said Marcel Popa, a cousin of the victims.

"Lots of tears," added Erin Wilhite, who taught two of the children at Clever elementary school.

Those were the reactions of family and friends to the tragic accident along I-44 involving nine members of the Dobos family.

The family moved to the area from Romania in 2004 and mom Claudia was driving a white van with all eight of her children, six girls and two boys between the ages of 12 and 1, when she swerved to avoid a merging semi-truck.

The van smashed into a cable barrier in the median after the collision, leaving the right side of the van peeled open in the passenger area.

It was the three middle-aged children who died with the three oldest and two youngest surviving.

The victims were eight year-old Olivia, seven year-old Angelina, and six year-old Julia.

"We're all in shock and we don't understand why it was the middle three," said another relative of the family, Adina Tocai. "These were just the sweetest girls."

"Angelina was always so peaceful, just like an angel," said Marcel Popa. "Julia was always smiling and Oliva was always in a good mood. Just very happy kids."

"You talk about a hole in your heart or a piece of your heart missing. Well, that's literally the middle," added Wilhite. "The whole middle."

Wilhite taught Olivia ad Angelina in their first grade years in Clever. Unfortunately, Wilhite knows all too well about dealing with the death of a child as she lost her son Otto when he was born premature in 2014.

"God loves children," she said with a smile. "The only way I got through losing my son was knowing that he's in God's arms which is way better than mine and I know that's where all three of those little girls are."

The family's father, Ionel, is an assistant pastor at the Eben-Ezer Romanian Assembly church in north Springfield and the 150-member congregation immediately mobilized to show their support for the Dobos family.

"The support has been amazing in the Romanian community and throughout Springfield," said Marcel Popa, who helped start a Go Fund Me site that's raised over $94,000 in less than 24-hours.

Relatives also say the church family has rallied at the bedside of mom, Claudia, who was at the wheel trying to save her children.

"She was handling it very well considering the circumstances," Tocai said. "The love and support from people at the church were very welcomed and it was great for her."

Marcel Popa, who runs a chiropractic center in north Springfield, said the surviving children's injuries range from a broken hand to eye trauma.

"It could have been worse," he said. "It could have been nine coffins rather than three."

But it's a rough time for everyone including Sam Popa, the Sunday school teacher at the church who taught all those young faces that seemed to have such a bright future.

"What's going to be hard is just seeing those chairs empty," he said. "Going there to Sunday school and them not being there is going to be hard."

"We don't question God's plan," Marcel Popa added. "He's in the business of fixing broken hearts."

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