It was supposed to be a fun post-Christmas getaway for two Winnipeg families.
But a series of tragic events on a North Dakota highway during a blinding snowstorm have left one woman dead and two children seriously injured.
Karla Mackenzie, 33, suffered fatal injuries after an SUV she was a passenger in was struck from behind by a semi-truck on Interstate 29 near Drayton last Saturday afternoon.
Her three-year-old daughter was airlifted to a hospital in Minneapolis, where she remains. Her husband, Steven Conner, was driving the vehicle and suffered minor injuries.
Two other passengers inside the vehicle were also hurt. Family friend Allison Lau and her three-year-old daughter also remain in hospital.
The driver of the semi, who is also from Winnipeg, was not injured.
Allison Lau is listed in stable condition, while police would not comment on the condition or prognosis of the two children. However, they noted both girls were airlifted to Minneapolis while Lau was taken by ambulance to a Grand Forks hospital.
Deputy Marcus Ramsay of the Pembina County Sheriff’s Department told the Free Press Thursday the investigation is in the early stages and no charges have been laid.
Although the highway remained opened, conditions were terrible because of heavy snow and wind and a "no-travel advisory" had been issued. Ramsay said it appears the SUV had slowed, or perhaps even stopped, on the highway when it was struck from behind by the semi.
"It happened on a part of the highway where there would have been no reason to stop," said Ramsay
The deadly crash happened only a short time after another collision involving Allison Lau, her husband Ho and their daughter, according to friends.
The trio had escaped injury after their vehicle was hit by a truck on the snowy highway. Ho Lau agreed to stay by their damaged vehicle waiting for a tow truck to arrive while his wife and daughter went with Steven Conner, Karla Mackenzie and her daughter, who were travelling nearby and saw the initial crash.
The plan, apparently, was to stop at a nearby hotel and wait out the weather. But they never made it.
Both families were on their way to Minneapolis, friends told the Free Press on Thursday.
Mackenzie worked at Boeing, and dozens of online tributes were being posted following her death.
"They are the absolute sweetest people," said Winnipeg lawyer Josh Weinstein, who is a family friend. Mackenzie’s father-in-law was Arnold Conner, a long-time Manitoba judge who died in December 2010.