3 in prominent Denver family die in crash | VailDaily.com

3 in prominent Denver family die in crash

Colleen Slevin
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado – Three members of a prominent Denver family on the way to visit relatives for Christmas died in a car crash on an icy stretch of Interstate 80 in Wyoming on Saturday.

John Parr, 59, a political consultant who worked with governors, mayors as well as grassroots community groups, his wife, journalist Sandra Widener, 53, and daughter Chase, 19, were killed after their car was hit by a tractor-trailer six miles west of Rawlins, the Wyoming Highway Patrol said Sunday. The only one to survive the crash, 17-year-old Katy, was taken to a Casper hospital in critical condition.

Gov. Bill Ritter, whose family has known Parr and Widener for 20 years, said the deaths were a “devastating loss”.

“John and Sandy made untold contributions ” small, large and every size in between ” and touched untold lives. They were loved by so many people that you can feel the tears ripple across Colorado today. We will be in mourning for a very long time,” Ritter said in a written statement.

Mayor John Hickenlooper and his wife Helen Thorpe also said they cherished their memories of Parr, Widener and Chase.

“They made us better people. They made Denver a better city, and Colorado a better state. We struggle to comprehend this loss, and our hearts go out to Katy,” they said.

Friends of Katy and Chase planned to gather for a vigil Sunday evening at Denver’s Cheesman Park.

Parr, the co-founder of Denver-based Civic Results, served as president of the National Civic League from 1985 to 1995 and was as a board member of the Denver Downtown Partnership. According to a biography posted on the company’s Web site, Parr directed the field organization to help elect Dick Lamm governor of Colorado in 1974 and, in 1983, served as the transition director for Denver Mayor Federico Pena. He also was among the first staffers to work for Colorado Common Cause.

Widener wrote for The Denver Post and Parr’s niece, Kathryn Pfaltzgraff McAllister of Newport News, Va., said she helped co-found the alternative newspaper Westword and later worked as a freelance writer.

Chase was a sophomore at Wesleyan University who had a gift for singing, performing in “Fiddler in the Roof” in her senior year at East High School in Denver, McAllister said. Katy is also a student at the school, where she plays soccer, she said.

McAllister said Parr and Widener were a team, united in their political views and intellectual pursuits. She said the historic bungalow where the family lived was always buzzing with plays and projects.

“They were people who lived life to the fullest,” she said. “They got involved with their friends and neighbors and they knew what it took to make the world a better place. They thrived on helping other people.”

Parr, who grew up on a farm in Kentland, Ind., graduated from Perdue University and the University of Denver’s law school.

The accident happened as the family was headed to Boise, Idaho to spend Christmas with Widener’s parents and two sisters, McAllister said.

The highway patrol said there was blowing snow and icy conditions as Parr and his family headed westbound on I-80 in their 2007 Subaru station wagon.

First, their car slid and ended up sideways across the road, toward the median. Angela Seeley, 42, of Colorado Springs, Colo. swerved her sport utility vehicle to avoid the station wagon but clipped its back.

Seeley’s SUV ran into the back of a snowplow driven by Johnny Frank Woolner of Rawlins, Wyo. A 2007 Chevy pickup driven by Robert Maxwell of Douglas, Wyo. avoided the station wagon but hit the SUV.

The station wagon, driven by Parr, was then hit by the tractor-trailer. It was driven by William R. Bowers of Bremerton, Wash.

The crash is still under investigation.

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