Family heartbroken by death of girl, 15

LESS than a week ago Sarah Gaecke was celebrating her 15th birthday and looking forward to Christmas.Now, alongside the birthday and Christmas cards on the mantelpiece at her family's Ipswich home, a growing number of condolence cards written by grief-stricken friends and relatives are appearing.

LESS than a week ago Sarah Gaecke was celebrating her 15th birthday and looking forward to Christmas.

Now, alongside the birthday and Christmas cards on the mantelpiece at her family's Ipswich home, a growing number of condolence cards written by grief-stricken friends and relatives are appearing.

Nearby, under the Christmas tree in the front room of her Nacton Road home, are presents she will never get to open.

Today the “cheeky” and “loving” teen's heartbroken family told of their pain after her death in a horrific A14 crash on Friday, just three days after her birthday.

Her mum said: “Sarah was a joy.

“She had been through some rough times but the last few weeks she was at peace with her life. She was a lovely young woman.”

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Sarah was a passenger in a car travelling along the Ipswich-bound carriageway when it was involved in a collision with another vehicle near the Orwell Crossing truck stop near Nacton at about 7.40pm. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Holywells High pupil had been on her way back to Ipswich after going with two friends to Felixstowe to put a friend's horse away for the night.

Ms Gaecke, 36, said she heard the friends had been in an accident but went to Ipswich Hospital with the intention of picking her daughter up and bringing her home.

She said: “I didn't even know she was hurt. I went up to the hospital and that's where they told me what had happened.”

Now, instead of looking forward to Christmas, Ms Gaecke is left with the agonising task of organising her child's funeral.

“I don't think it's sunk in yet,” she said.

“I have to do Christmas for my other children but my friend is going to help me take Sarah's presents from under the tree because I can't have them there when we open the other presents.

“I can't sit here handing out presents and hold it together on Christmas morning with them there.”

Sarah was born at RAF Lakenheath, where her American father Chris Gaecke, 41, was based before being posted back to the US.

When she was three the family moved to California, where they lived for six years. They then moved to Arizona but Sarah's parents separated about six years ago, with her mother returning to Ipswich.

The music-loving teen stayed with her father and brother Aaron, 13, but regularly visited her mother in Ipswich and about a year ago made the decision to live here permanently.

Her father, Aaron and other relatives in the US are planning to travel to Ipswich to attend her funeral and be with Sarah's family here.

Following his sister's death, Aaron said: “Sarah had her moments but she was the best big sister and I loved her and will always miss her.”

Ms Gaecke said Sarah was a wonderful sister to her siblings; Aaron, 14-month-old sister Isabelle and five-year-old brother Jacob, who has severe physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy.

“Sarah adored all of them. She was fantastic with kids.

“She was a second carer to Jacob. Sarah managed to care for her brother and also have a social life.

“Because of Sarah there's a lot of people who now understand more about disabled children.

“She was very protective of Jake. She would defend him to the hilt.”

Karen Gaecke, Sarah's paternal grandmother, said: “My heart is absolutely broken. She was my first grandchild and she and I were as close as a granddaughter and a grandmother could be. She was the light of my life.

“She would have gone on to become either a wonderful wife and mother or to do something that would have made the world a better place to live in.

“I spoke with her on her birthday and I was able to tell her I loved her and I'm pleased about that.”

From her home in Wisconsin in the US, Mrs Gaecke, whose husband William died in 2002, said Sarah's dad had been left inconsolable by her death.

“She was his little girl. He is devastated,” she said.

Sarah's death is the latest in a tragic month on Suffolk's roads, which has already claimed 13 lives.

A 19-year-old man, also from the Ipswich area, was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving following Friday's crash and has been released on police bail until the New Year.

Suffolk police today appealed for any motorists who saw Friday's crash or either of the vehicles involved - the dark blue Renault 19 which Sarah was a passenger in and a blue VW Polo travelling behind it - as they travelled along the A14.

A spokesman for the force said motorists on either carriageway could hold information which could assist with the inquiry.

Anyone with information should call Pc Steve Griggs at the force's roads policing unit on 01473 613500 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Do you want to pay tribute to Sarah Gaecke? How will you remember her? Call The Evening Star newsdesk on 01473 324788 or e-mail

SARAH Gaecke loved life - she loved her family, adored being with her siblings and enjoyed great friendships.

Since moving back to Suffolk from the US she had made strong bonds with friends and loved socialising.

“There's nothing she wouldn't do. She'd help anybody out,” her mum Vici said.

“My neighbour came around and said she'd never met somebody who brought more joy.”

Ms Gaecke said Sarah had had challenging times in her life and faced the hurdles many teens do.

“She managed to come through some hard times, she'd come through the other end, which I'm glad she did before this.

“She was 15 last Tuesday. It was that one step closer to being 16.

“She'd gone out with her friend and we did her a birthday cake and now that's still sat in the kitchen.”

Sarah's father had sent her the money to pay for an eyebrow piercing which is something she wanted for her birthday - for Sarah another step toward adulthood.

Among her dreams for the future were plans to open an alternative clothes shop for young designers.

Ms Gaecke said she would remember Sarah as a young woman with an “enormous personality”.

“She was very stubborn and very strong minded. If she got something in her mind it would stay there.”

Lyndi Fiddament, 15, a pal from Holywells High said, “You'll always be my girl, love you and miss you.”

Family friend Marie Garstang, of Ransome Road, Ipswich, said: “She was very caring. She adored my children and all my children adored her.

“I don't believe she's gone. It just doesn't seem real to me. I just keep crying.

“She was lovely, bright, she touched the heart of everyone she met. I miss her already.”