WHITEVILLE, La. - An online fundraiser had brought in $759,199 as of Dec. 29 — more than its $500,000 goal — for a Louisiana family that lost three children in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 49.
The money was donated to the Simmons family following the Dec. 17 wreck in St. Landry Parish that claimed the lives of three siblings and critically injured two others in the vehicle.
Louisiana state troopers said a pickup truck driven by John Lundy, 54, of Dallas, Georgia, hit their SUV near Whiteville. Lundy, the only occupant in the truck, was pronounced dead at the scene.
About 12,000 people had contributed to the GoFundMe drive in smaller increments of $20 or $100 to as much as $10,000, news outlets reported.
Katie Simmons DeRouen, the older sister of the victims, told The Advocate she started the fundraiser as a way to make the situation "even .000000001% better" for her parents in the "very dark days to come." Her mother, Dawn Simmons, was injured in the crash and was in critical condition.
"The outpouring of love and support is just astonishing," DeRouen wrote in a Tuesday post on Facebook. "I am in awe of how God is showing up during this storm. My mom is so worried about returning to work — of course — and I was trying to explain to her that she REALLY won’t have to worry about that for a long time. She just kept asking if it — the GoFundMe — was real. Guys, just LOOK at how amazing this campaign is. It brings me to tears because my momma deserves the WORLD, and I know that she will be able to have at least one less thing to stress about."
John Dalton Rohr, a photographer and former Mississippi State University track and cross country competitor, was listed as a "Top Donor." He used his social media presence to encourage others to give to the online campaign in a post Sunday.
Rohr and his brother were one of the first cars to stop and help, calling 911 as they approached the wreck. They’ve lost friends in car accidents, so they wanted to help how they could, even after they returned home.
"No one should have to go through such tragedy and heartbreak," Rohr told The Advertiser. "I wish there was more I could do or could have done. Money and words can’t bring loved ones back, but it’s my wish that they find peace during this dark time."
Investigators took toxicology samples from Lundy and Lindy Rae Simmons, who was driving the SUV with the family members. Results are still pending and the crash remains under investigation, Trooper Thomas Gossen, spokesperson for Louisiana State Police, said.
DeRouen said she was at a Christmas party when she got the call Dec. 17 that her mom and three youngest siblings had been involved in a wreck. She rushed to three hospitals in an effort to locate her family. Instead of providing comfort, however, she was tasked with identifying bodies.
Twenty-year-old Lindy Rae Simmons, 17-year-old Christopher Simmons and 15-year-old Kamryn Simmons were dead. Christopher Simmons’ 16-year-old girlfriend, Marissa Darby, was also in the vehicle and suffered critical injuries.
DeRouen is the second born of nine. Her father, Ray Simmons, retired from Cleco a few weeks ago, and Dawn Simmons worked as a mail carrier before the crash.
"We went from our ‘big family of nine kids’ to six kids in the blink of an eye," DeRouen said. "I don’t know how we will ever move on or recover from this."
Dawn Simmons suffered numerous injuries in the wreck, including a bleeding spleen, punctured lung, two broken ankles, a broken leg and broken wrists. A doctor told the family she would not be able to walk "like normal" for about a year because of the severity of the bone fractures, the family said.
On Dec. 21, DeRouen said her mom is doing well and is "completely herself."