Everywhere Briane Penny looks in her house, she sees reminders of her daughter.
Photos of 13-year-old Raelyne Cheek are scattered around the house. A ripped piece of notebook paper reads: “To mommy and Toddy from Raelyne. I love you very much.” The camera roll on her phone is filled with Raelyne’s selfies.
It all hurts to look at and reminds her of the life her 13-year-old daughter could have had before she died in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Jersey County on Aug. 11. Sometimes it helps to talk about Raelyne; other times it’s too painful to think about.
“She was my best friend; she was attached to my hip,” Penny said. “It doesn’t even seem like it’s real. I just want to hold you one more time, baby.”
Raelyne, who was about to start eighth grade at Southwestern Middle School in Piasa, was a social butterfly, wanting to be friends with everyone she met. A perfectionist about her looks, Raelyne always had to make sure her nails and hair — but only the front — looked perfect, her mom said. Her phone was her prized possession — so much so that she was even buried with it.
She loved horseback riding and taking care of her horse, Okie, and any outdoor activities. She learned how to shoot a bow and arrow, and loved that, Penny said. Most of all, she loved spending time with her mom.
“She was a big-time mommy’s girl,” Penny said.
Just before the crash, when Penny called her daughter to check in with her at the home of the girl’s grandparents, Raelyne told her she was getting dressed up and going nowhere — just like mommy likes to do.
Then the call came.
“There’s been an accident,” Raelyne’s father told Penny. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t breathe. What had happened to her daughter?
“God, please do not take my daughter, please,” Penny recalled thinking. “She’s all I have.”
Raelyne was killed on impact, something that brings Penny some comfort. At least she didn’t suffer, she said.
More than 280 people have died from ATV crashes between 1982 and 2014 in Illinois, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nationally, 13,617 people have died in ATV-related crashes in that same time frame.
Illinois has some of the most lax ATV laws in the country. Riders aren’t required to wear helmets, and there are no age restrictions. One of the only state restrictions is to not drive on paved roads or highways: where Raelyne was killed, and her friend, 13-year-old Erica Wallace, was critically injured. Erica was moved out of an intensive-care unit Friday and is on her path to recovery, her mother said.
Raelyne and Erica were riding the ATV east on Challacombe Road, approaching Illinois 267 around 4 p.m. Aug. 11, and did not stop at a stop sign, Illinois State Police said. A man driving a tractor-trailer couldn’t avoid the ATV and struck it. Neither girl was wearing a helmet.
“I don’t blame (the truck driver) for anything,” Penny said. “It’s not his fault ... You can see his brake marks for 30 solid feet.”
As Penny and her fiance pulled away from the funeral, a double rainbow shone in the sky, brighter than she had ever seen. Friends and family were calling her: Did you see that rainbow?
Penny said she knew it was Raelyne, sending her mom one last message.