SPENCER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Steps from the site of a storm-drenched crash that killed a woman and two little girls, a single pink Croc lay roadside Friday morning.

“I found this on the ground over there,” Tammy Jensen said, struggling through tears.

It was a toddler-sized reminder of an immeasurable loss.

“It’s (her) little shoe,” Kiersten Kleynenberg said, referring to one of the children killed in the Thursday night collision.

“She hated those things. She hated wearing shoes,” Kleynenberg recalled, a smile flickering across her tear-stained face.

According to Kent County deputies, the girls, ages 1 and 3, were riding in the backseat of a Mitsubishi Eclipse, both strapped in car seats, when the crash happened.

“Those babies were wonderful,” Kleynenberg said. “They were the cutest little things ever imaginable. The second they came into our lives, they stole our hearts. They were just always so happy and smiley.”

Also killed in the accident was the front seat passenger in the Eclipse, 21-year-old Karissah Kleynenberg, of Gowen, Kiersten Kleynenberg’s sister.  

Karissah Kleynenberg’s boyfriend was behind the wheel, according to her friends and family.

He was also dad to the two little girls, and he survived the crash.

Kent County sheriff’s deputies said he was transported to the hospital with serious injuries. 

Karissah Kleynenberg was not the girls’ mom, though her family said she loved them and their dad dearly.

Kent County deputies said initial information showed the driver of the Eclipse was heading eastbound on 18 Mile Road near Harvard Avenue when he lost control, crossed the center line and slammed into a westbound SUV.

Deputies said the driver of the SUV, a 42-year-old man from Sparta, suffered minor injuries.

Visiting the scene of the crash on Friday, Karissah Kleynenberg’s family had a message for her boyfriend.

“If he watches this, I want him to know: Daniel, we don’t hate you,” said Kim Jensen, Karissah Kleynenberg’s mom. “We want you to get ahold of us. We want to know that you’re okay. My daughter loved you. Please get ahold of us.”  

Karissah Kleynenberg’s family and friends also want the world to know how very special she was.

“She always made everybody smile,” Kiersten Kleynenberg said through tears. “She was everybody’s rock. She was always there. So happy, no matter what.”

Karissah Kleynenberg was also an exceptionally hard worker, becoming manager of the Greenville Popeyes at just 21.

“She ran the store,” Kiersten Kleynenberg said. “She ran it like a boss. She set an example for everybody. Absolutely everybody.”

Family said donation jars for Karissah Kleynenberg’s funeral expenses will be placed in various Popeyes around West Michigan, including the stores in Greenville, in Kentwood, in Muskegon and on 28th Street.

You can also donate to a GoFundMe set up in Karissah Kleynenberg’s name.

Witnesses said the crash happened amid a torrential downpour, minutes before tornado sirens began to blare.

“I thought I heard a loud clap of thunder,” recalled Brent Willett, a homeowner on whose lawn one of the vehicles came to rest. “I actually thought maybe a tree fell, and I peeked out and saw chunks of headlights in the grass. And that’s when I yelled, ‘Call 911,’ and went outside and started assisting with another person who had stopped.”

Willett and the passing driver, both trained in first aid and CPR, did everything they could to help the victims while awaiting emergency crews.

“The adrenaline kind of kicked in and being a teacher and first aid CPR trained, I just kind of went into action,” Willett recalled. “Both drivers were conscious, but the others were not. Right away we saw car seats.”

Willett said first responders arrived within seven minutes and wouldn’t stop working on the victims, even as a potential tornado bore down on them amid driving rain.

“They were not going to stop. They did not give up,” Willett said. “At one point after paramedics arrived, the fire chief had asked us to keep an eye on the sky. It does say a lot, just to know that we do have people out there who are willing to risk their lives for others.”

Karissah Kleynenberg’s friends and family said they’re grateful to first responders, Willett and the passing driver who stopped.

“I love that kid with my whole heart,” Kiersten Kleynenberg said, referring to the young driver who stopped to help. “He tried his hardest to save my sister and those babies.”

Upon learning that Willett had also rendered aid, the group quickly made its way to the homeowner, who was standing at the top of his driveway.

They wrapped their arms around him, offering gratitude amid excruciating grief.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” said one of Karissah Kleynenberg’s family members.

“No words are necessary,” Willett responded, adding that a lot of people tended to the victims.  

Willett, a dad himself, did have a message for those who drive on 18 Mile Road.

“Got to slow down,” he said to News 8. “The speed limit is 55, and people are doing 60 to 70 miles an hour at times. It’s bad.”

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation is ongoing.

“The KCSO Traffic Safety Unit is continuing the investigation to determine any additional factors involved in the crash including alcohol, speed and rain. We have not released the identities of the family yet as they are still working through this extremely difficult time.”