SALISBURY — Two Rockwell schools are reeling from the loss of one custodial employee and the severe injury of another in an accident last week.
Jennifer Fesperman, 35, the head custodian at Erwin Middle School, was killed Friday morning when her van was struck by a tractor-trailer in Albemarle.
Her husband, Kenneth Fesperman, 47, is a custodian at Rockwell Elementary School and was injured in the wreck along with the couple’s three children.
Friends of the family said Tuesday that Kenneth is in a medically-induced coma at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
“The Erwin Middle School family is devastated trying to grasp the shocking news of losing a member of our school family,” wrote Principal Kristi Rhone in an email to the post. “She was a special lady that truly touched all of our lives.”
At Rockwell Elementary, faculty and staff have organized a fundraiser for the Fespermans to help with any expenses from the accident.
The benefit will be held at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 29 at the elementary school. It will include car wash, a yard sale, food, a cornhole set raffle and a cornhole tournament.
Registration for the tournament will begin at 9 a.m., and the tournament itself will take place at 10 a.m. The game entry fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Kenneth and Jennifer Fesperman had nearly finished building the dream home that they started in 2009, said someone close to the family who did not want to be named. They were married nearly 20 years.
Jennifer — known as “Annette” to some family and friends — was devoted to her family, enjoyed her job and was very active in her church, said the person close to the Fespermans.
Rhone said faculty and staff gathered at Erwin Middle on Monday to share their grief and their good memories of Jennifer. They are also working on a benefit for the family.
She said the district’s crisis intervention team, under the leadership of Carol Ann Houpe, has been in close contact with the school and is providing extra support and guidance when needed.
Two of the children in the family attended Erwin Middle in the past year, Rhone said.
“I can honestly say that our hearts are crying for each of these children and we stand ready to help them through this nightmare in any way we can,” Rhone wrote in an email to the Post. “This is one of those times when as difficult a tragedy as this is, it is heartwarming to see our folks gathering, reaching out to one another to help each other through these days.”
Jennifer was riding in a van driven by the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, Jessica Fesperman, around 4:15 a.m. Friday on U.S. 52 in Albemarle. Friends of the family say they were on the way to the beach.
According to police and news reports, the southbound van crossed into the path of a tractor-trailer heading west on N.C. 24-27, at an intersection where the traffic lights were flashing.
Others in the van included Phillip Fesperman, 11, and Jordan Fesperman, 14. The children were still in the hospital Tuesday, according to information posted on a Facebook page called “Praying for the Fesperman family.”
Patient conditions for the Fespermans were not available Tuesday from Carolinas Medical Center or Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. On Friday, Baptist listed Phillip’s condition as fair and Jordan’s condition as serious. It’s unclear which of the two hospitals Jessica was taken to Friday.
Laura Kerr, principal of Rockwell Elementary School, said Kenneth has worked there for one year but is already a “cherished member of our Rockwell school family.”
“We are devastated by the news of the loss of his wife Jennifer, and the injuries to Fess and to his children,” Kerr wrote in an email to the Post. “Our prayers are with Fess and his family and we are active in looking for ways to support them in any way that we can.”
During a phone interview, Kerr said Kenneth is a wonderful person.
“He has done all kinds of things for us here,” she said “He’s just friendly, and everybody loves him.”
Kenneth is well-known for his barbecue cooking skills, she said, and he just cooked food for the staff get-together at the end of the year.
“You could say he makes the best ribs anybody has ever tasted,” she said. “We call his ribs meat candy, they’re so good.”
Kenneth and Jennifer Fesperman have even competed as a championship barbecue team called the Hickory Smokers.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.