When a blizzard kills a friend

Her name was Monica Quintus, but her friends in cyberspace knew her as “Cookie Lady.” She loved to bake cookies and send them across town or across the country to friends just to brighten their day.

More than once, she dropped by the newsroom unannounced with a tray of fresh cookies after learning that I had had to write a particularly wrenching story.

She was shy and worked at Cessna and wasn’t one to stand out from the crowd unless you noticed and appreciated kindness and warm smiles and the fact that when she asked how you were doing she really cared about your answer.

On the Sunday before Christmas 2002, we chatted on the phone about our holiday plans. She told me she had a lot of holiday baking to do before she left for Tulsa, where her parents lived. She loved to give cookies and other baked goods as presents.

I knew there was a snow storm moving into the area overnight, but her baking list left me with the impression she wouldn’t be able to leave until Christmas Eve morning on Tuesday.

But I began receiving phone calls and e-mails from other friends of Monica on Monday night asking me if it was true that she had been killed in Oklahoma. I put my reporter hat back on and learned she had driven into the snowstorm, and slid out of control on the Cimarron Turnpike and into the path of a semitrailer truck.

She was pinned in the wreckage for an hour and died later at a nearby hospital. I was sleep-deprived and numb with shock as I wrote a story about the storm the next day. The lump in my throat wouldn’t budge.

Several friends from the Wichita area went to her funeral on a crisp, sunny day after Christmas, though I was not able to join them.

Ever since then, when I hear that snow or ice is a possibility in the region, I remember Monica and don’t hesitate to mention the threat to readers. Some may snarl, some may laugh, and I know there’s no guarantee anyone will take heed.

But maybe – just maybe – some readers will be more careful after learning of the weather threat and arrive safely at their destination as a result.

In that small way, Cookie Lady can keep on giving.