Kari Chopper’s family is waiting for answers in the wake of a horrific crash that killed the 43-year-old school bus driver and injured three football coaches. All they have is one clue from the coroner, and the support of their community.
“I didn’t go to bed yet. I got home last night and I stayed up — not to sound like a big old baby — but I sat up and I cried all night long,” said Josh Chopper, her widower, on Monday afternoon. “I kept thinking, ‘Is she going to come home?'”
Today he’s been calling everyone he can — the coroner, the Adams 12 Five Star school district — to get some explanation for why the crash happened.
He knows, like everyone else, that she was supposed to drive part of the football team home from Denver International Airport. He knows that she for some reason circled back around as the caravan left the airport, that the bus suddenly exited the road and that it hit a bridge support, no sign of an attempted turn. He doesn’t know why.
“Kari was a non-smoker, a non-drinker. She never even took a puff of a cigarette in her life. She’s just a straight shooter,” he said.
The Adams 12 school district said Chopper passed her legally required physical in May.
His only theory so far is that she may have had heart disease or a heart attack. The coroner told him that her heart was enlarged far beyond normal. The Mayo Clinic connects enlarged hearts to several possible medical conditions. Of course, we’ll have to wait for the medical professionals to finish their work before we know much about what happened to Kari Chopper.
Three coaches of the Legacy football team remained hospitalized after the crash. The cause remains a “mystery,” according to Denver police.
“All the buses have video tapes. I would like to know if they watched that video tape — if she had a heart attack, if she passed out,” said Chopper, who was himself a Thornton football coach. “I would like to know if something happened.”
In the meantime, the Choppers have heard a loving response.
Jenna Rodgers, once a youth pastor for three of Chopper’s children, is organizing a fundraiser and meals for the bereaved family. She’s finding plenty of support.
“I know how hard the media can be on bus drivers. At first I was concerned,” she said, referring to the possibility that Chopper would be vilified for whatever role she played in the crash. “But God is faithful, and there’s been a huge response via social media and the GoFundMe page.”
The fundraiser has collected about $5,000 in eight hours today. Money will go to funeral expenses, food, bills and housing for the Choppers, according to Rodgers.
“We are a Legacy High School family and pray for your family at this most difficult time,” one donor posted. There have also been donations, of course, from friends, family and strangers.
“She was an amazing person, and she was a responsible person. She would never compromise her driving ability,” said Rodgers, who has driven buses herself.
“We don’t know what happened either, but I am so certain that it was not something she could prevent. I believe she held up her responsibilities.”
Here’s how Josh Chopper, described Kari Chopper on Facebook: “Heaven has definitely gained the best cake maker in the entire world. The angel of cakes. My love I miss you already. I can’t stop crying.”
Kari Chopper was a native of Minnesota. She was the “strength,” of the family, Rodgers said. The Choppers were married for 22 years, raising four children now ages 15 to 19. She was known for her chocolate cake, and her kindness.
“There was this boy that would come up to her bus every day, wearing a pair of cleats, because he didn’t have anything else. She came home and said, ‘I just took the last $20 of the account, and bought this boy a pair of shoes,'” Josh Chopper recalled.
“For Easter, for Halloween, for Christmas, she always made sure to decorate her bus. She was just always going the extra step.”