Southwest Illinois newlyweds healing after wedding-day crash that killed their best man

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The bride wore traditional white, while the groom wore blue jeans cinched behind a big belt buckle and a black tuxedo coat with matching cowboy hat.

The union of Allison “Allie” Flynn and Ryne Fithian, was celebrated at their farm, the Circle F Ranch, in Eden, Illinois, just outside Sparta. They exchanged their vows outdoors where they could include the horses they love so much and train for rodeo competition.

After exchanging rings and sealing the deal with a kiss, Sling ‘n Scoops, of Red Bud, served ice cream to the couple’s guests. Pictures were taken and the wedding party loaded up for the drive to Genesis Banquet Center on Telegraph Road in south St. Louis, where the party was to resume.

“It was literally like your own private carnival,” said Jodie Fithian, the groom’s father. “It was that much fun.”

But a storybook day for the young, metro-east couple was marred by tragedy when a highway crash between the wedding and reception left the bride with serious injuries and claimed the life of the best man.

The newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Fithian had stepped into a 2021 Ford Bronco for the ride north to the reception.

Accompanying them on that sunny afternoon were Maid of Honor Destiny Gillhan and Best Man Chance Karnes, who had celebrated his 20th birthday just the day before.

As they traveled north on Illinois 3, Rhonda Schaefer, 57, of Red Bud, was headed eastbound on Old Route 3 in a 2001 Chevrolet pickup truck. Where the paths of the two vehicles crossed, Illinois State Police said, Schaefer missed a stop sign and collided with the wedding party’s Bronco, causing it to roll.

Ryne Fithian, 25, — named for his father’s favorite baseball player, Hall of Famer second baseman Ryne Sandberg — suffered a broken arm along with some bumps and bruises in the crash.

Gillhan, 20, who made the trip from Batesville, Arkansas to stand up for her best friend’s wedding, was taken by ambulance to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Karnes, a former standout quarterback from Herrin High School, was thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene, state police said.

He had come into the Fithians’ life through their shared interest in horses. He had traveled the country competing in rodeos on cutting horses and even gave bull riding a go.

Choking on his emotions, Jodie Fithian described his son’s friend as a “world-class gentleman” and the kind of person who captured the attention of a room as soon as he entered it.

“I didn’t get to know him for very long, but I felt like I’ve known him my whole life. I felt like he was – and still feel this way – like he was my own son,” Fithian said. “Chance came into my son’s life and took him another level with competing with horses and wanting to train and condition them for other people.

“The horse community within itself is a whole other family. You have your family and then you have your horse family, Chance was both to us. I want to let the Karnes family know how deeply sorry we are for them and how much we love them.”

The bride is still fighting.

Allie Fithian was airlifted to Saint Louis University Hospital after the crash. She has several broken bones, including to her skull and several vertebrae, according to Jodie Fithian. But as of Wednesday, he said, she no longer needs a breathing tube and is able to open her eyes and speak.

Her new husband has been at her side daily.

“I tell everybody that she’s going to be OK and – I’m not kidding you – she is the strongest woman I’ve ever seen. I mean physically she is amazing how she handles horses,” said Fithian. “There is no way this is going to keep her down. She is a powerful force physically and emotionally.

“She is amazing, I could not be prouder to have her as a daughter-in-law.”

Fithian has started a Go Fund Me page to help the newlyweds with medical bills and to keep the Circle F running until they are able to get back to work.

Ryne Fithian, a recent graduate of Southwestern Illinois College and a project manager, expects to be laid up and unable to work for three to six months, his father said. It’s not certain how long his new wife, a self-employed horse trainer, will be unable to work.

“Allie’s whole life was hoarding horses, training horses, and competition with horses and it’s going to be a long time before she can do any of that,” Jodie Fithian said. “Even though that has to stop, they still have a stable full of horses and their own private horses that they have to feed and take care of, water, and do a lot of things with.”

Karnes’ funeral will be held at the Herrin High School football field Sunday at 1 p.m.