SILVER SPRINGS -- A Silver Stage Middle School teacher's aide described as a "bee charmer" for her ability to bring out the best in even the toughest kids was killed Monday in a freak early-morning accident a mile east of Mustang.
Karen Marie Hatcher, 41, died about 6:30 a.m. from injuries received in the accident on Interstate 80. Her husband, Robert, and daughter Jolene, 14, sustained minor injuries.
"The whole school was in shock today, just utter disbelief. How could something so awful happen to somebody so special?" asked Principal Melanie Johnson.
In the accident, tires broke free from a tanker truck heading east on Interstate 80 and slammed into the family's GMC truck.
The tires, attached to a single rim and estimated to weigh a total of 400 pounds, had bounced over the center median at speeds of 65 mph into the westbound lane before striking the hood and windshield of the truck, which was being driven by Robert Hatcher, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol.
The tires then landed on the roof of the passenger side of the cab where Karen Hatcher was seated. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Robert and Joleen Hatcher were taken to Washoe Medical Center in Reno, where they were treated for minor injuries.
Hatcher had been with the Lyon County School District since 1993, according to associate superintendent Mary Goodman.
"She was very, very active in numerous student activities. She just did an excellent job," Goodman said, naming drama, wrestling and special education as some of the programs in which Hatcher was involved.
"Karen was the Mother Teresa at our school," Johnson said. "She was well loved by all the staff and students. Karen was at the heart of everything that was good for kids."
Johnson said Hatcher had an artistic streak and spent hours creating extravagant bulletin boards or giant "extraordinary" paper flowers.
"She just lived at the school," she said. "If a student didn't have wrestling shoes, she'd buy them for him. If he needed a coat, she'd get him one."
Johnson said school staff spent Monday counseling the students who learned of Hatcher's death in their homeroom classes.
"The staff did an awesome job of being there for the kids," she said. "They had to put their grief aside and walk the kids through the loss."
Hatcher is survived by her husband, three children and a foster child.
The rig -- a tractor towing two tanker-trailers containing fuel -- is owned by Berry-Hinkley Industries in Sparks and was being driven by Dale Lynn Osterhout of Elko. He was not injured.
Osterhout realized the tires had come free from the rig and drove another half-mile before pulling over, unaware the tires had smashed into the Hatcher vehicle, according to Trooper Patrick McGill of the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Alcohol and drugs are not believed to be a factor in the accident, McGill said, and all occupants were wearing seat belts.
Any charges in connection with the accident are pending an investigation and a review by the Washoe County District Attorney's Office, according to McGill.