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Vernon Hills girl whose family died in crash expected to recover

A 9-year-old Vernon Hills girl who survived a horrific car crash that killed her family is expected to make a full recovery, officials said Tuesday.

Rinka Hirayama was in fair condition at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, a spokeswoman there said. The girl was the lone survivor of a crash Friday night in a remote stretch of Arizona desert that killed her 16-year-old brother, Yuki, and her parents, Tomohiro and Sachiyo Hirayama, police said.

Rinka is a third-grader at Half Day School in Lincolnshire. Scott Warren, superintendent of Lincolnshire-Prairie View School District 103, told parents in an email that Rinka was alert and expected to fully recover.

“We are extremely sad to learn of this tragic news, and we express our sympathy to Rinka and all whose lives have been impacted,” Warren wrote. Noting that the family has no known relatives in the United States, school officials said Rinka’s grandparents in Japan were reached and planned to join her in Arizona.

The accident occurred when the Hirayamas, traveling west in a van on U.S. 160, 25 miles outside of Tuba City in northern Arizona, were struck head-on by a pickup truck, according to the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The driver of the truck had crossed the center line as it was being chased by Navajo police, authorities said. A call or calls to 911 had first alerted police that the person behind the wheel of the pickup was driving erratically in Tuba City, spokesman Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Raul Garcia said.

The truck rolled over and burst into flames, and the two people inside, who have not been identified, were also killed.

During the pursuit, the truck had been driving at speeds of more than 100 mph, and police were more than a mile behind it at the time of the crash because of concerns about the safety of other motorists, Garcia said.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the family,” John Billison, director of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, said in a press release. “This is a horrible and tragic event. We are doing everything we can to determine the facts of the case and at such time we will act.”

Yuki attended classes for non-native speakers at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Classmates hoped to set up some type of Japanese memorial in his honor, school spokesman Jim Conrey said.

Tomohiro Hirayama was a vice president who helped plan products and marketing in the U.S. for Yaskawa America, Inc., best known here for making Motoman robotic products for manufacturing. He previously worked in Denmark and Germany but moved his family to Vernon Hills last year from Japan, according to the company.

He was “friendly and energetic,” a vital member of management who embraced life in the U.S. and traveled extensively with his family to explore the country, including their trip last week to see the Grand Canyon, said company spokesman Dennis Fitzgerald.

“Everyone at Yaskawa is deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Hirayama and his family,” the company wrote in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those left behind and especially with the Hirayamas’ daughter.”

The company will work with relatives to honor the Hirayama family, and a memorial fund to help their daughter’s recovery is being established.

Efforts are also underway to organize volunteers to help Rinka, but it’s too early to tell how that will play out, said Jeff Steybe, president of the homeowner’s association board in the Stone Fence Farms subdivision of Vernon Hills, where the Hirayamas had rented a house since last summer. Neighbors are willing to help drive the family in the area as needed or help them pack should they choose to return with the girl to Japan.

“We’re all shocked by this,” Steybe said. “We have a lot of neighbors who would love to help. We just don’t know where we can help right now.”

rmccoppin@tribune.com | Twitter: @RobertMcCoppin

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