[Photo courtesy of Josephine Antonio]

Hannah Greening was the light in her friends’ and family members’ lives.

The 15-year-old teenager, who was killed last weekend in a traffic accident near the entrance to Arches National Park, had a loving heart that could melt away differences among estranged family members, according to family friend Josephine Antonio.

“Hannah always had that bond that could bring them back together,” Antonio said. “No matter the situation, she could always make everything better.”

Hannah was born and raised in Shelton, Washington, and she and her family were passing through Moab on Saturday, May 14. They were traveling en route from San Angelo, Texas – where her father is stationed with the U.S. Army – to pay a surprise visit to their family members in Washington state.

At about 1:41 p.m. that afternoon, their family’s car collided with another vehicle that was attempting to pull out of Arches’ main entrance off U.S. Highway 191.

Emergency responders transported Hannah to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she later died from injuries sustained in the crash. Hannah’s mother, Holly Greening, was also hospitalized with substantial injuries.

Antonio said her longtime friend is still in a wheelchair, with six or seven broken ribs, a broken ankle, a tear in her knee and lacerations to her chest and lap. Doctors also had to remove glass and metal from her body, and Antonio is concerned that Holly Greening’s other ankle might be broken – it’s hard to tell, she said, because it’s so swollen.

“She’s still in a lot of pain – physically, mentally and emotionally,” she said.

While hospital officials didn’t want her to leave the facility, Holly Greening was determined to get back to her family in Shelton, her friend said.

“They weren’t quite ready to release her, but she was ready to be released,” Antonio said.

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ty Roberts called the incident a tragic accident that occurred due to a blind spot at the busy intersection, and said that neither alcohol, drugs, nor excessive speed were factors in the collision.

According to the highway patrol’s preliminary investigation of the incident, a 2012 Jeep CJ was stopped at the stop sign by the park’s main entrance.

Jeep driver Adrian Najera of Evansville, Wyoming, was waiting to turn southbound onto the highway as the Greening family’s 2013 Toyota Rav 4 approached the intersection in the right lane. At the same time, a northbound pickup truck that was traveling in the right-turn lane prepared to turn into Arches, cutting off Najera’s view.

“The guy in the Jeep believed he was clear,” Roberts said.

At that point, Najera began to turn southbound onto 191, and the Greenings’ car broadsided his Jeep, causing it to overturn, while the Toyota spun and came to a stop in the roadway.

Hannah Greening was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Yet although he’s still waiting to read the medical examiner’s report, Roberts said that a preliminary investigation suggests the belt may have been hiked up above her hips, where it was meant to go.

Hannah’s 5-year-old sister, Emma Greening, was restrained in a booster seat and sustained only a minor bump to her head. Another passenger in the vehicle, 25-year-old Jessica Pittman of San Angelo, was not seriously injured, according to the highway patrol.

Antonio said that Emma is still a little confused and uncertain about what happened to Hannah, who thought of her younger sister as “her world.” But Emma knows that she went to heaven, Antonio said.

Najera, meanwhile, was wearing a seat belt, but his passenger, 27-year-old Cody Lakner of Evansville, was not. Both men were injured, and they were subsequently admitted to and then released from Moab Regional Hospital.

State officials eyeing safety improvements

Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Scott Robertson said his agency has gone on record with its thoughts about possible steps that could be taken to prevent tragedies from occurring at the increasingly busy intersection. But the highway patrol is deferring to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to move forward with those measures, or other recommendations to improve traffic safety in the area.

“We have input in that, but ultimately, it’s their engineers and people who are way smarter than me who get to make those decisions,” Robertson said.

UDOT Region 4 Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen said that potential conflicts at the intersection are a key area of focus for the department’s engineers.

“The park is addressing its entrance, mobility and capacity needs,” Kitchen said. “In the interim, we’re working cooperatively to allow for some temporary operational adjustments on the highway, as needed, for the sake of maintaining safety.”

But the options to improve the flow of traffic around the park’s entrance also extend beyond engineering solutions, he said.

“Personal behaviors aided by education and enforcement are also key,” he said. “The ability to address travel demand through the use of increased communication tools and coordination also provide key elements in preparing for growth.”

Family makes arrangements for Hannah’s burial

Antonio said that she and Holly Greening have been through everything together, and news of the tragedy left her at a loss.

“We’ve always been able to comfort each other, and I didn’t know how to in this situation,” she said.

After consulting with her friend, she decided to set up a verified GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $10,000 to help the family bring Hannah “home” to Shelton. Hannah was especially close to her late maternal grandfather, Antonio said, and the family plans to reunite them.

“They’re going to bury her right next to him so that they can be together,” she said.

As of earlier this week, her fundraising effort had far surpassed her expectations, and both Antonio and Holly Greening thank everyone who contributed for their outpouring of support.

“When I set it up, a put a number on there, but never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d get anywhere close to there,” Antonio said. “It’s just overwhelming.”

“My heart is overflowing with love and generosity,” Holly Greening said in a message to her friends and family members. “I just want to bring our daughter home to Washington and lay her to rest next to the grandpa she so adored. Any bit helps. Thank you.”

Highway patrol says blind spot near Arches entrance likely to blame

If you would like to contribute to the family’s verified GoFund Me account, please go to: www.gofundme.com/24edpd78.