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Families, friends mourn three teens killed in fiery car crash near Ballwin

Families, friends mourn three teens killed in fiery car crash near Ballwin

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Rhegan Sajben was a quick-witted 15-year-old, excited for her new club volleyball season.

Jacob Keifer, 15, was a great hugger who loved water sports and collecting Yeti coolers.

Cole Anello, 16, was a soccer player known by friends for being kind to others.

All three were killed around 4 a.m. Sunday in a car crash near Ballwin. Police said a Nissan Maxima driven by Cole left Kiefer Creek Road near Forest Valley Drive, struck a tree and caught fire.

Cole and Rhegan and Jake

Cole Anello, 16, (from left), Rhegan Sajben, 15, and Jacob Keifer, 15, were killed Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in a car crash near Ballwin. (Left photo by Jason Schoenig/Dirt and Turf Photography).

Community members gathered at Marquette High School on Nov. 16 to mourn the deaths of three high school students killed in a crash on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021: Jacob Keifer, 15, Cole Anello, 16, and Rhegan Sajben, 15. The event was organized by Will Bratton and his mother, Amy Bratton, friends of one of the students who passed, Jake Keifer, 15. Speakers, in order, are Will Bratton; Vicki Keifer, mother of Jake Keifer; Amy Bratton; Josh Keifer, brother of Jake Keifer; and Will Bratton. Video by Taylor Tiamoyo Harris, Post-Dispatch

Rhegan and Jacob were passengers in the car, as were an unidentified 16-year-old girl and 16-year-old Andrew Vendt. Police said Andrew and the girl are expected to survive.

Police still do not know the cause of the crash or where the teens were headed that morning. A St. Louis County police spokesman said Monday the incident was still under investigation.

Students from Marquette High School in Chesterfield and De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur flocked Monday after school to a memorial near the scene of the crash to pay their respects.

They stood in silence, laid flowers at the site along the winding, steep road and remembered their classmates, four of whom attended Marquette. Anello was a De Smet student.

Hundreds visit the memorial site of car crash where 3 teens died

"It hit us really hard yesterday morning. It comes and goes in waves. The outpouring of love and support from the community has been heart-warming," said Steve Sajben, who hugs his oldest son Gavin "Stone," 19, on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, alongside a memorial set up on the tree where three teens died and two others were seriously hurt in a car crash along the 1100 block of Kiefer Creek Road on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, near Ballwin. Sajben is the father of Rhegan Sajben, 15, one of three teens police identified in the fatal crash. The other two are a Cole Anello, 16, and Jacob "Jake" Keifer, 15. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Gayla Sajben, Rhegan’s mother, told the Post-Dispatch in an interview that her daughter had recently “found her spark.”

Rhegan Sajben portrait

Rhegan Sajben, 15, is shown in a photo provided by her family. Sajben was killed Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in a car crash near Ballwin along with Jacob Keifer, 15, and Cole Anello, 16.

The sophomore had made the Marquette junior varsity volleyball team as an outside hitter and joined a new club team.

She was the youngest of four children. She was shy, but she had a “bright, vibrant” personality, Sajben said. Rhegan was spreading her wings, making more friends and filling up her social calendar.

“She was just starting to become that young lady, wearing a little bit of makeup,” Sajben said.

Rhegan had recently gone to her first homecoming dance after COVID-19 closures and attended Marquette football games. Rhegan’s mom said she leaned into difficult math and science classes and talked about finding a career in forensic science or wealth management.

“This has been a really good year for her,” Gayla Sajben said. “She knew she was loved. She was very, very happy.”

Jacob Keifer, who went by Jake, was “fun loving with a big smile and a huge heart,” said Amy Bratton, a family friend who spoke on behalf of his parents, Harry and Vicki Keifer.

Jacob Kiefer

Jacob Keifer. Photos courtesy of the Keifer family.

He loved boating, surfing and water sports on family lake trips to Arkansas. He was becoming a sharp dresser with an interest in watches and belts, she said.

“He was the stars in the sky for his parents,” Bratton said. “He was best friends with his dad. He loved his friends fiercely. He was a good student and the best little brother.”

Jake had a wide circle of friends at Marquette High School, where he attended alongside his 17-year-old brother, Josh.

“The Keifer house was a revolving door because Jake always had friends in and out of there,” Bratton said. “That house is going to be so quiet without him.”

Both Bratton and Sajben applauded Marquette for supporting students.

“The school has been great about letting these kids grieve,” Bratton said.

Cole was a soccer player at De Smet. Girls who were at the crash site memorial Sunday said he made everyone smile and was among the nicest people they knew.

Cole Anello portrait

Cole Anello, 16, is shown in a photo provided by De Smet Jesuit High School. Anello was killed Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in a car crash near Ballwin along with Jacob Keifer, 15, and Rhegan Sajben, 15.

Those at the memorial on Monday were still finding it difficult to believe their friends were gone.

“I didn’t think it was real. I thought it was just dumb kids making up a rumor,” said Sammie Williams, from Eureka High. Her friend, Sierra Sachtleben, from Lafayette High, added, “My heart just dropped when I heard their names.”

Sheree Thurman, of Wildwood, stopped by the memorial to pay her respects. Her son is a freshman at De Smet, and while he didn’t know Cole personally, she said the entire school is close.

“They have a brotherhood,” she said. “It’s a tight-knit community.”

Michele Munz, Katie Kull, Erin Heffernan, Kim Bell and Taylor Tiamoyo Harris of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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