Crawford grandparents become parents again after deadly Northwest Highway crash

  • Kevin Crawford, right, Kirsten Crawford, second from right on top, and Anita Crawford, third from right, were killed last month in a Des Plaines car crash. Hailee Crawford, left, and Christian Crawford now live with their grandparents.

    Kevin Crawford, right, Kirsten Crawford, second from right on top, and Anita Crawford, third from right, were killed last month in a Des Plaines car crash. Hailee Crawford, left, and Christian Crawford now live with their grandparents. courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

  • Memorials remain at the crash site along Northwest Highway in Des Plaines where three members of the Crawford family lost their lives.

      Memorials remain at the crash site along Northwest Highway in Des Plaines where three members of the Crawford family lost their lives. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Memorials remain at the crash site along Northwest Highway in Des Plaines where three members of the Crawford family lost their lives.

      Memorials remain at the crash site along Northwest Highway in Des Plaines where three members of the Crawford family lost their lives. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/30/2017 6:22 AM

Sitting in the kitchen of their Mount Prospect home, where the couple have lived for more than 50 years and raised two daughters, Erwin and Ursel Schmidt talked about raising two more children.

Tragedy vaulted them back into parenthood. The grandparents became parents again in February after a speeding Mercedes-Benz driven by a young man with a tainted driving record crashed into a car occupied by Kevin and Anita Crawford and their 20-year-old daughter Kirsten.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The collision killed all three family members and Piotr Rog, who was driving the Mercedes.

Last weekend, the Crawfords' younger children, Hailee, 16, and Christian, 10, moved into their grandparents' home.

The past month has been marked by the sorrow of burying three loved ones, the pain of reliving grisly details of the crash with investigators, and the bewilderment of starting a new life with two children.

"Everybody has offered to help us with the kids, and I think we don't know what to ask for," Ursel said. "We're doing the best we can."

Yet the family has also felt an outpouring of support -- from the hundreds who attended the funeral, the Des Plaines police who visited their home, and the many who donated to a GoFundMe page that has raised $130,154 for the kids.

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"The generosity of those people is unbelievable, and it hasn't stopped," Erwin Schmidt said. Both Schmidts become emotional and have trouble speaking when telling of how much such efforts have meant to them.

In some ways, though, the biggest challenges come next. The grandparents, ages 78 and 74, recognize the difficulties they'll take on caring for the children, each busied with sports, school and the perplexity of preteen and teenage life.

Erwin recalled trying to help Christian hook up a Wii to the television. They sorted through a ball of cords tangled like spaghetti until Christian found the right one.

"That's beyond me, all that stuff," Erwin said. "Then he's got that iPad. His thumbs never quit. I mean, they go 150 mph."

Ursel agreed, saying, "You have no idea what he's talking about."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hailee turned 16 last week and celebrated with friends who took her to the Sugar Factory in Rosemont. Then there's an upcoming driver's test, a notable rite of passage for a 16-year-old. Her father paid for a driving class before he died and courses start soon, but a new car is a few years away, her grandparents said.

For now, Hailee will continue taking the bus to high school and the grandparents will drive Christian to his school, because he no longer lives in the district. Whether he'll stay at the school next fall is undecided.

The family's home in Arlington Heights will go on the market, which has forced the children to pare back their belongings.

That includes giving one family dog, Lucy, to a friend. But they kept their smaller dog, Bella, and two cats, Elliott and Jax, whom Christian introduced during one of his occasional visits to the kitchen to check out what was going on. Add the Schmidts' own dog and the house has become a farm, Ursel said.

"I always said the stairs are going to keep us young, having to go up and down," Ursel said. "Now the kids have to keep us young."

The new household seems to be accepting the painful changes -- even if out of necessity.

"We shouldn't have been in this predicament, believe me," Erwin said. "But there is nobody here, so we have no choice."

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