Top student, athlete, friend

Taylor Ziebol, right, was photographed with her siblings, Shannon and Adam, before they set out on their road trip to El Paso, Texas. (Photo submitted)

Taylor Ziebol, 19, killed in Kansas car crash

A nearly 20-year age difference didn’t keep Taylor Ziebol and Jen Waller McDevitt from becoming close friends.

Waller McDevitt was Taylor’s 11th-grade English teacher at Burnsville High School. Last summer, after Taylor had graduated and before she set out for Ripon College in Wisconsin, the pair pounded pavement together, training for a half marathon.

“So we had lots of time together to just pour out our hearts,” Waller McDevitt said. “She wasn’t like other teenagers. She was very mature, very understanding, compassionate.”

Taylor, who was staying with Waller McDevitt’s family this summer, left their Burnsville home at around 7:30 p.m. July 10, headed for El Paso, Texas, with her two younger siblings to visit their grandparents.

Taylor, 19, was killed the next morning, after the family’s Nissan Murano she was driving crossed the center line and struck a semi truck head on near Dodge City, Kan.

The crash occurred at about 7 a.m. on U.S. Highway 54. Taylor died a short time later at Western Plains Regional Hospital.

Her siblings are recovering from their injuries. Shannon Ziebold, 17, is doing “great” after having had her appendix and some of her intestines removed, Waller McDevitt said Monday.

She said Adam Ziebold, 15, had more extensive internal injuries and was still under sedation. The semi truck driver, 56-year-old Raymond Noriega of California, was also hospitalized, the Kansas State Patrol reported.

The Ziebols had stopped at a McDonald’s for a “much-needed caffeine break” at about 5 a.m., Waller McDevitt said.

“The semi driver saw (the Ziebol vehicle) and veered out of his way as much as he could, which is what they say saved Adam and Shannon’s life,” she said.

Taylor Ziebol was a high achiever in the classroom and on the soccer field, where she started 15 of 18 games as a midfielder for the Ripon Red Hawks in her freshman year.

“We’re heartbroken,” Ripon head women’s soccer coach Sam Schroeder said in a statement on the team website. “Taylor epitomized what it means to be a good teammate and a good person. She set an example for us all every single day. We will miss Taylor’s limitless energy, determined spirit, and ever-positive outlook.”

She had strong personal connections with many educators in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, all the way back to her days at Gideon Pond Elementary, Waller McDevitt said.

“Taylor and I formed an instant bond when she was in my 11th-grade class,” said Waller McDevitt, whose husband, David, is a Burnsville High social studies teacher. “She would stay after school with me and just want to talk. That’s what Taylor did. She was close to many teachers in our school district.”

She took post-secondary classes for two years, her senior year at Normandale Community College. Also during her senior year, Taylor tutored two days a week in the AVID college-readiness program at Nicollet Junior High, which she had attended, and did volunteer work in the office.

Taylor exuded “positive energy wherever she went, and whatever she had going on in her life, she always came in with that great attitude,” Nicollet Principal Renee Brandner said.

She babysat for several of her teachers and visited her old schools on breaks from college. She sent Brandner an email this winter saying she was switching majors to secondary education and wanted to teach science.

“I worked closely with her,”  the principal said. “She was so bright and capable.”

Taylor, whose father died when she was in second grade, often reached out to teachers she was close to during difficult times, Waller McDevitt said.

She has stayed with McDevitts a number of times and babysat their children, 9-year-old twins Arelys and Keegan and 4-year-old Connor.

“As her aunt said, it took a village to raise Taylor,” Waller McDevitt said fondly.

Taylor’s father, Michael, died when she was in second grade. She and her siblings were going to visit his parents when the crash occurred.

Taylor was involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and active in her church, Prince of Peace in Burnsville. She worked at the Target store in Lakeville during high school and on breaks from college.

Her mother and stepfather, Lesa and James Hess, live in Burnsville with Shannon and Adam. Lesa had recently bought the Nissan Murano for the kids to use, Waller McDevitt said.

“I think what’s so hard for everybody to understand is how somebody so alive cannot be here,” she said. “And she had this incessant love for her family. She and her mom were incredibly close. She took care of her brother and sister.”

The Ziebol Family Memorial Fund has been established through Wells Fargo Bank. Checks should be made out to “Ziebol Family” and can be mailed to or dropped off at any Wells Fargo office.