On Shattered Wings

Dultmeier Roofing Owners Share Their Grief to Help Others Cope

Amy R. Connolly, Writer
Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Jennifer Dultmeier was just 19 years old — five months past high school graduation — when she unbuckled her seatbelt to reach for a CD in the backseat. Her lifelong friend, who had had a few drinks, was behind the wheel, zooming down a lonely stretch of road in southeast Topeka, KS. In only an instant, Jennifer’s life was cut short, leaving her family grasping for answers and wrestling with profound grief.

Since the deadly 2002 crash, Jennifer’s parents have worked tirelessly to share her story and warn of the horrific consequences that happened that night. Jim Dultmeier, founder of Dultmeier Roofing, has made it a practice now to publicly speak out against DUI, and Lori Dultmeier started Quilts for Angels, which donates quilts to local hospitals for grieving families. Behind closed doors, sadness, anger and confusion enveloped their lives for years to come. They leaned on their deep Christian faith, family and friends to push forward. Still, the road to peace has been a rocky one.

The family’s agonizing journey — documented in their book, On Shattered Wings — captures intimate details of shock, sorrow and slow healing through personal journal entries and essays. As National Impaired Driving Prevention Month continues through December, the book underscores the lifelong trauma caused by just one decision.

David Dultmeier, Jennifer’s twin brother, said her death shook the family foundation. In the months and years that followed her death, a tidal wave of tragedies washed over the family, including other DUI-related deaths.

The years also saw happiness and joy — Jim retired from the family business, David and older brother Justin became the new owners of Dultmeier Roofing, marriages were celebrated and grandchildren were born.

David said the time after Jennifer’s death was a blur. But, at the same time, her death solidified his relationship with his brother.

“My brother and I lost a sister, and we made a pact not to lose each other,” David says. “Life comes with a lot of decisions, and we have to be careful. My grandpa put it this way at the funeral: ‘Sin takes you places you don’t want to go, makes you stay longer than you want to stay and makes you pay a cost you don’t want to pay (death).’”

Preventing Impaired Driving

In 2012, December was designated National Impaired Driving Prevention Month to bring attention to impaired driving, including driving under the influence of alcohol and illegal and prescription drugs and driving with distractions like cellphones. Every day in the United States, 32 people die in drunk driving crashes.

In 2002, the year Jennifer died, 17,419 people died in alcohol-related crashes, accounting for one death every 30 minutes.

In 2020, fewer people — 11,654 in total — died as a result of drunk driving, which highlights the continuing efforts by the Dultmeiers and others to stop impaired driving.

That Fateful Night

The night Jennifer died, October 26, she and best friend Carolyn, 18, went to a party. After drinking, they climbed into Carolyn’s sporty red Grand Am. As Jennifer unbuckled her seatbelt to reach into the backseat for a CD, Carolyn lost control of the car. A group of teens nearby heard tires screeching and glass shattering. Jennifer had been ejected through the sunroof.

The Dultmeiers would later learn that although the levels may have been skewed due to blood transfusions, Jennifer’s blood alcohol level was under the legal limit. Carolyn, who suffered broken bones and head trauma, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence. In court, the Dultmeiers urged a lenient sentence. The judge gave her 10 days in jail and probation. Jim recalled his feelings in On Shattered Wings.

“God is a forgiving God,” he said. “He told us to forgive others. All we can do now is move on. I had asked the judge to give Carolyn another chance at life, and he did. I hope she makes the most of it and lives, not in sorrow, anguish or guilt but in happiness and purpose. Another chance is something that I wish Jennifer had.”

During the initial years after Jennifer’s death, Jim and Lori struggled to create some sense of normalcy. As Lori said in the book: “Ever since Jennifer died, one of my greatest fears has been losing Jim. Not because he doesn’t love me but because there isn’t enough left of me to love. And the truth is, I don’t have the energy to do anything about it, even if I knew what to do.”

After all, parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. So, for most mothers and fathers who experience that kind of loss, working through their grief is a never-ending journey.

Surrendering to Healing and a New Life

After a year of firsts — the first Christmas without Jennifer, the first birthday without Jennifer, the first summer without Jennifer — the Dultmeiers inched toward their new normal. At the same time, though, the coming years saw even more sadness. Nathan Dodd, Jennifer’s 21-year-old cousin, was killed in an alcohol-related crash, and Jim’s brother-in-law was left paralyzed and later died from a DUI crash.

Through it all, Jim and Lori held tight to their faith. Lori said she learned about life, love, loss, relationships and God, and became aware of two fundamental truths: “God makes life possible — and loss bearable. It’s as simple, and as hard, as that.”

For the book, the couple spent countless hours with the author, family friend Nancy Sprowell Geise, recounting their struggles and even the horrors over the years.

Geise poured over personal journals and conducted interviews to understand the deep emotions. It was an intense journey for Jim, Lori, David and Justin, Geise said in the book.

“Telling this story was very painful for them and, at times, embarrassing,” she said. “Yet they have done so in the hope of saving lives, helping others deal with grief and as a tribute and legacy to Jennifer’s beautiful life. Sharing their stories was a sacrifice of love.”

Because of the importance placed on resource sharing in the Asphalt Life community, and with the help of the Dultmeiers, Atlas writers felt personally compelled to create a space to share this story of love, loss and tragedy, featuring their experience and the book that followed.

For more information about On Shattered Wings, visit the author’s website or booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.