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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Father buries entire family: Say no to drinking and driving

'Please don't drink and drive. ... This is what happens—three beautiful lives abruptly cut short.'

Recalling cherished memories

Josh Jahn of Dwight speaks of missing his wife and children after Tuesday's funeral for Amanda, 27, Ryan, 3, and Kaitlyn, 11 months, in First Christian Church in Morris. The three family members died in a two-car accident near Morris on Thursday night. The other driver, Ann Marie Getz, 43, of Streator was charged with three counts of aggravated driving under the influence. (Tribune photo by John Smierciak / November 11, 2008)

Amanda Jahn was driving home from teaching a violin lesson, her two young children strapped into their car seats, when a vehicle came barreling through a stop sign and slammed into their car.

A repeat drunken driver was behind the wheel of the other vehicle, officials said.

Josh Jahn, a volunteer firefighter, was at home with his police scanner on. When he heard the accident come over the radio, he drove to the scene because he had just talked with his wife and knew she was driving on that road.

Jahn saw his son being loaded onto the ambulance but not his wife. He followed the ambulance to the hospital, where he kept asking where his wife was until someone told him she had died at the scene.

On Tuesday, family and friends remembered Amanda, 27, Ryan, 3, and Kaitlyn, 11 months, at their funeral as they pledged to support the grieving husband and father left behind.

In the church sanctuary after the funeral, Jahn choked up as he recalled coming upon that crash scene. And he made a plea.

"Please don't drink and drive," he said. "I want my wife and kids to be remembered. Use a designated driver. Call a cab or a friend.

"This is what happens—three beautiful lives abruptly cut short."

He declined to talk about the other driver but said he favored harsher penalties for drunken driving. For now, he was taking comfort in the support provided by family and the more than 2,000 people who attended the visitation and funeral.

Longtime friend Laura Keech left the visitation crying, saying she was both sad and angry.

"I was completely shocked when I found out what happened," said Keech, 22. "Then I was just so mad when I found out it was a drunk driver. Someone did something stupid and took her life away."

"To me, they had it all," said Joan Bistry, who lived next door to the Jahn family in Dwight, 75 miles southwest of Chicago. "They were just starting their lives together. They were more than an all-American family; they were deeply religious. Most people don't have their lives together at such a young age."

Amanda Jahn was driving south on Illinois Highway 47 from Morris to Dwight about 8 p.m. Thursday. Ann Marie Getz, 43, was driving west on Gardner Road toward her home in Streator when she is alleged to have run a stop sign and crashed into the Jahns' vehicle. The Jahns' car was spun into a cornfield by the crash. Both children, who were thrown from their car seats, were taken to Morris Hospital, where they were pronounced dead, officials said. Amanda was trapped in the car and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Getz was charged last week with four counts of aggravated driving under the influence and ordered held in lieu of $1 million bail. She had a valid driver's license at the time of the crash, but was charged with DUI in 2001 and convicted of DUI in 2002, according to records.

There was no answer Tuesday at her home.

The Jahn family lived on a quiet street a few blocks from Main Street and the Amtrak station in Dwight, a town of about 4,400 people. They attended First Christian Church, about 15 miles away in Morris, where the funeral was held.

Josh Jahn juggled three jobs to support his family, including working as a parts manager at a John Deere dealership and as a tow truck operator on the weekends. He hadn't seen his family in a few days because of his busy schedule and was looking forward to spending time with them, he said.

His wife, Amanda, or "Mandy" to friends, had been home schooled and began playing the violin as a child. She toured the United States and Europe with the Chicago Consort of Western Springs.

The Jahns were married in 2000. Their son, Ryan, loved accompanying his dad to work at the fire station. The church nursery staff fought over caring for their baby daughter, Kaitlyn, because she was so well behaved.

"Those children were two little angels," church member Terrie Whybank said. "This whole thing is just unimaginable."

Getz received supervision after she was charged with DUI in July 2001, according to records. After she received a second DUI on Feb. 25, 2002, she was convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail. Her licensed was revoked, and she did not get it back until 2005.

The first case did not count as a DUI conviction and did not lead to a revocation of her license. Under state law, the first DUI conviction carries a minimum 1-year revocation of a license, said Penelope Campbell, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. The second conviction means a 5-year revocation, the third a 10-year revocation, and the fourth a lifetime revocation.

A license is not automatically reinstated after the revocation penalty expires, Campbell said. A person must meet with an evaluator and undergo a series of tasks to prove a commitment to sobriety, such as substance-abuse counseling, and then appear for a hearing, she said, and Getz met those requirements.

Getz, who could face up to 28 years in prison if convicted, was hospitalized after the crash in the intensive-care unit at Morris Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. She is under police watch and will be taken to jail once she leaves the hospital.

Dwight Fire Chief Darrin Shull spoke of the outpouring of support for the Jahns."The fire family is huge," he said. "When one has a loss, everyone has a loss."

Josh Jahn was counting his best friend among his losses.

"The house is quiet," he said. "I miss them so much. I know they're in heaven and I'll see them again."

Tribune reporter Erika Slife contributed to this report