LAKE MILLS — A semi-versus-van crash near Cambridge claimed the lives of a Jefferson High School sophomore and his father early Friday evening, authorities report.
Kaden Johnson and his father, Brian Johnson, of Jefferson, were on their way home from a junior varisty basketball game in McFarland when their van collided with a semi truck on U.S. Highway 18 at its intersection with Hope Lake Road in the Town of Oakland.
Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath reported that at approximately 7:32 p.m., deputies were called to the two-vehicle crash just north of Lake Ripley. The initial investigation found that a semi truck was traveling west on Highway 18 when it began to go out of control. The eastbound van then collided with the semi.
Both occupants of the van, the Johnsons, were pronounced deceased at the scene. The driver of the semi was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.
Early reports indicated that the semi was a tanker carrying ethanol.
The road was closed in both directions for several hours. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was assisted with traffic control by Jefferson County Emergency Communications.
The crash, which took place as a snowstorm was moving through the area, remains under investigation by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Crash Investigation team.
While Jefferson County Medical Examiner Nichol Tesch was unable to complete a formal positive identification of the crash victims due to medical records not being available until business hours on Monday, the Johnsons’ identities were shared with students and staff through an email from School District of Jefferson High School principal Stephen Dinkel.
“It is with deep sadness and a very heavy heart that I share with you of the death of one of our students, Kaden Johnson,” he wrote. “Kaden and his dad, Brian Johnson, passed away in a car accident Friday evening. Kaden was a sophomore at JHS and played on the JV boys’ basketball team. Kaden’s sister, Kennedy, is a fifth-grade student at West Elementary.”
Dinkel said that as of Sunday, funeral arrangements had not been announced.
“We have honored the request of the Johnson family for privacy while they grieve and this is why we have held this message until today (Sunday),” Dinkel wrote. “We thank you for your patience. The family has asked us to inform you to respect their need for privacy and refrain from drop-in visits to their home.”
He continued: “As parents and caregivers, you probably never thought you might have to share news of this kind with your children, and we honor your preferred way of doing so. Students will have varied reactions to the death of a peer. Any reaction is normal in the grief process and can range from withdrawal to crying and anger.”
Noting that “our entire community is saddened by the tragic loss of one of our students and his father,” Dinkel reported that the high school library would be open to students, families and staff Monday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as a gathering place to share memories and support one another. The district’s Pupil Services staff was to be on hand to provide support and grief counseling, the latter of which also will be available to students throughout the day Tuesday and as needed moving forward.
“Our team is available to support students and families as needed,” Dinkel wrote, listing the Pupil Services guidance counselors: Shannon Mooney, 675-1127, firstname.lastname@example.org; Nick Whalen, 675-1128, email@example.com; Elizabeth Kock, 675-1103, firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa McKay, 675-1133, email@example.com; Dan Mowry, 675-1426, firstname.lastname@example.org; and Kathy Volk, 675-1062, email@example.com.
The principal also offered the following resources persons might wish to read: Resources: NASP Death and Grief: Supporting Grieving Children and Youth, https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html?WT.ac=p-ra, https://childrengrieve.org/resources and https://www.dougy.org/.
“During times of grief and sadness, we rely on each other for strength and our memories to bring peace to our hearts,” Dinkel wrote. “On behalf of the School District of Jefferson and the family, we thank you for your comforting thoughts.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of Friday’s tragedy, the Jefferson and Fort Atkinson student sections will be wearing navy blue, Jaden’s favorite color, during the nonconference boys basketball game at 7:15 p.m. Monday. They also will observe a moment of silence.
During the game and rest of the week, the school will be accepting donations and organizing a 50/50 raffle to raise money for the Johnson family. Checks should be written to Jefferson High School.
A separate GoFundMe account was set up by Josh Saenz to raise money, as well, with a goal of $10,000. As of 6:30 p.m. Sunday, 113 contributors had given a total $4,965.
In addition to basketball, Kaden was involved in music and drama. Two years ago, he had the lead role in the Jefferson Middle School play, “Peter Pan.”
“The Jefferson Middle School choirs and Jefferson Drama Club is saddened to learn of the passing of one of our former members, Kaden Johnson, and his father this past Friday due to a car accident,” said a post on the Music and Drama departments’ Facebook page.
“Kaden was actively involved in choir and drama in middle school. He was a natural actor, singer and showman, and nothing, I mean nothing, could stop him, even a broken leg.
“He will always be remembered as our Nicely Nicely Johnson in ‘Guys and Dolls Jr.,’ delivering the show-stopping song, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,’ and the lead role of Peter Pan in ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ Kaden, I will be looking for you amongst the stars.”
The Facebook post concluded with “Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning,” a line written by J.M. Barrie in “Peter Pan.”