Michael Xayavong's family is remembering him for his huge smile and love of life. He was in the backseat of a car with four other friends early Saturday morning when a suspected drunk driver crashed into the vehicle.
Officials say 28-year-old Tammy Kvasnicka was driving drunk and going the wrong way down Interstate 229 around 2 a.m. in the morning Saturday.
Troopers say her car was all over the road and there was no way for the other vehicle to avoid the crash. She's charged with her third DUI, vehicular homicide and vehicular battery.
Xayavong's family says the fact that Kvasnicka was drunk makes his untimely death even more difficult. Xayavong was 27 years old and just starting his career. He grew up in Sioux Falls, graduating from Washington High School and took classes at Colorado Tech. But now the family he leaves behind in Sioux Falls is wondering how they can go on without him.
Pictures of Xayavong are all his family has to hold onto, but they say his smile is the perfect reminder of his personality.
"He has a big heart and he always made everybody smile. One thing everybody knows him. He'll always have a smile on his face, and it's just sad now I can't see his smile anymore," Michael Xayavong's brother, Tiou Xayavong, said.
Xayavong's big smile is a stark contrast to the mangled car he was riding in early Saturday morning. Authorities say he was riding in the backseat when his friend tried to swerve away from a drunk driver going the wrong way. Tiou Xayavong was there just minutes after the crash happened.
"I just broke down. I was stunned. I was numb. I had no feeling at that time," Tiou said.
The pain hasn't stopped since because Xayavong's brother knows the crash could have been prevented.
"If you're that drunk, you shouldn't be on the road like that. You're taking an innocent body away from us, family, and we're not going to see Michael anymore, and it's tough," Tiou said.
Xayavong's entire family has now gathered to mourn his loss, cousins remembering the good times like the family band they had started.
"Michael plays the drums. He's like the beat to our life, beat to our hearts, now it beats up in the sky every day," Michael's cousin Pete Xayavong said.
But above it all is Xayavong's smile, a comforting image to deal with the pain.
"And that smile will keep us going, help us heal," Tiou said.
"I know he's smiling down on us right now," Pete said.
Three of Xayavong's friends, including the driver, in the car walked away with minor injuries. The fifth passenger in the car, 24-year-old Tony Chounramany, has serious injuries.
Investigators are still looking into how fast the cars were going and who was wearing seatbelts.