Family and friends of two people killed in a four-wheeling accident this weekend are struggling to understand how a fun outing could go so tragically wrong.
Devin Grace Frantzke, 14, and Jeff Johnston, 55, of Payson, died when they were thrown from a Jeep Wrangler early Sunday morning near the end of Doll Baby Ranch Road.
Mark Frantzke, 43, who was riding in the Jeep, said he still cannot comprehend the death of his daughter and his best friend.
On Monday, Frantzke said he hoped people would remember “Dev” and Jeff for their “hearts of gold.”
“Both Jeff and Dev were amazing people,” he said. “They had the same heart. They would help anybody, anything, anytime.”
Johnston, who owned Lone Tooth, a denture business, was like an uncle to Devin, said Frantzke. When Johnston moved the business to Payson six years ago, the men became fast friends.
The group enjoyed four-wheeling and had gone before. “It is what the kids loved,” Mark said.
Mark would not discuss the details of the accident, but said he was trying to find some meaning in the events.
“I lost my daughter, my best friend,” he said. “She was an amazing girl — just unbelievable, unbelievable.”
Devin’s mother had reportedly passed away roughly a year ago. Devin was Mark’s only child.
Maggie Frantzke, Devin’s grandmother, said she had not stopped shaking since hearing news of the accident. “It is just a shock to all of us,” she said.
Maggie described Devin as “just the most wonderful 14-year-old.”
“She was an outgoing girl who was really looking forward to starting high school.”
Active in school activities, Devin’s true passion revolved around horses. She especially loved to ride her horse Lady Bug, who she received as a rescue from the Heart Six Ranch earlier this year.
On Devin’s Facebook page, several pictures show her riding the horse — a huge smile on her face.
The owners of Heart Six Ranch reportedly surprised Devin with the horse on her birthday.
Mark said Connie from Heart Six Ranch was a very devoted, kind and loving figure in Devin’s life.
“Her generosity in her knowledge and time for Devin was beyond all other,” he said.
“It would be nice to acknowledge Devin’s true friends, Cloe, Lena, Jaylynn and Brylie. And Jeff — truly a devoted friend and huge part of her life. The fact that they both passed with one another is my only solace,” Mark said.
Devin was a true animal lover. In addition to Lady Bug, she also cherished her cat, Black Jack, and two dogs, Zoey and Nellie.
Friends remembered Devin’s cheerful, giving spirit.
Rachel Spooner, 14, who played in band with Devin in sixth grade, said Devin was a good friend. “She was really nice,” she said. “I really just can’t believe that this happened. I just saw her two months ago and now she is not here anymore.”
Spooner said she realizes more than ever how precious life is. “You have to cherish the things you have in life, because good or bad, they might be gone.”
Daria Mason, who runs the high school’s band and middle school’s chorus programs, said she’d had Devin in music programs since she was in fifth grade at Frontier Elementary.
“She had a wonderful spirit. She would never give up. She would work and work and work until she got it right,” Mason said. “She never said a bad word about anyone else. She always supported other people.
“There was not a mean thing about her. She was a wonderful, sweet girl.”
Marlene Armstrong, who teaches at both the middle and high schools, said she had Devin as a student and her daughter, Eve, was in choir with her. “It is simply heartbreaking,” Armstrong said.
Authorities say the Jeep’s driver, Sharrod Stone, 43, was driving recklessly, speeding on the winding, wet road with seven passengers.
Stone is being held in the Gila County Jail on a charge of vehicular manslaughter.