MINNETONKA, Minn. - There was an odd mixture of sadness and joy spread over Minnetonka High School on Tuesday. The sadness was over the death of Danielle Renninger, 18, of Excelsior. The joy was about the memories of her life cut short by a fatal car accident Monday afternoon.
The accident involved Renninger and three schoolmates returning to North Dakota State University in Fargo. The four teenagers were westbound on Interstate 94 near Alexandria during a late winter snowstorm when their car crossed the highway median into the path of an SUV. All four young women were killed.
Lauren Peterson, 18, of Prior Lake; Megan Sample, 18, of Rogers; Jordan Playle, 19, of Otsego and Renninger all died. Passengers in the SUV and a third vehicle that struck the other two were injured and taken to hospitals.
Minnetonka business teacher Erik Sill had been proud that participation in his class had prompted Renninger to major in Business and Marketing at NDSU.
"She was a great kid; very smart and talented. She always walked in every day with a smile on her face and she had a certain energy about her that was just kind of intoxicating. [It] rubbed off on all of the staff and all of the students that were in my class," recalled Sill. "It was fun to have her."
Sill, a North Dakota native, said his mother was on the same highway just after the accident, heading home from a President's Day weekend. "She had heard about the accident but I didn't know it was one of my students until [Tuesday] morning," Sill said.
Renninger is remembered fondly by friends who were a year behind her in school.
"I am one of the only kids, I would say, from this year that was still friends with that group of seniors last year," commented Nick Lemieux, 18, of Deephaven. "I was good friends with Danielle and we all hung out in the same friend group."
Like many in the Minnetonka community on Tuesday, Lemieux was thoughtful and happy to plan a "pink out" for Wednesday at the west suburban school.
"She was a very outgoing person. When she entered the room, she was totally just... you could feel the glowing coming off her," Lemieux said. "I think pink is a good color to show how she was."
Senior Taylor Knutson, 17, said she danced with Renninger for many years. The Minnetonka dance team took second place in the national competition in Renninger's senior year of 2011.
"[Renninger was] spunky, loud, probably just the life of the party. Everyone loved her," Knutson said. "She always had a smile on her face. Always cracking jokes. Honestly, just brightening up everyone's day."
"Oh, she was an amazing person," added Hayley Hoaglund, 18, of Excelsior. "She was really beautiful inside and out and she had a contagious personality and laughter. She just radiated and lit up the room."
Prior Lake High School Principal Dave Lund said his school was still processing the tragic loss of Lauren Peterson, 18, of Prior Lake, on Tuesday.
"Lauren was just an outstanding young adult, heavily involved in school, well-liked by everybody," Lund said. "She has been on our competitive cheer leading team for four years and a good solid leader there."
Rogers High School was mourning the sudden loss of two alumna: Megan Sample, 18, of Rogers and Jordan Playle, 19, of Otsego.
"They were two of the most successful girls I know," recalled Rogers junior Gabby Moter. "I was in DECA with them and they helped if you needed anything. I was a young student and they would always be there. If I had a question they would answer it and I know all the students at Rogers felt that way.
"They were so welcoming, and you never saw them upset. It is making me realize how much you cannot take for granted and how you really need to enjoy life day by day," said Moter.
Sample worked at the Ulta Salon and Spa in Maple Grove. Her manager described her as "exceptional; a bright star. She made people around her smile."
The Playle family released the following statement early Tuesday evening:
We would like to express our deepest condolences to the other families involved in this tragedy. We will miss our little girl. Jordan approached life with great joy and happiness. She loved life, and brought the best out in the people around her. Jordan enjoyed meeting other people and valued the differences in everyone. No one could have had a better daughter, sister, or friend! We thank you for your continued prayers and support during this difficult time.
The funeral for Danielle Renninger is set for Friday at 11 a.m. at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior.
Funeral arrangements for the other victims are not announced as yet.
(Copyright 2012 KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)