Ashley Callahan and Michael Prothe -- she a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he the father of a 3-year-old boy -- had just announced their relationship on Facebook last week.

Then, shortly after midnight Sunday, sheriff's deputies found the couple thrown from a Jeep Grand Cherokee on U.S. 77, about halfway between Beatrice and the Kansas border. The Jeep, driven by Prothe, had collided with a Ford Crown Victoria at the Nebraska 112 junction.

Prothe, 23, was dead -- as was Shirley Cook, the 75-year-old Beatrice woman in the Ford's passenger seat.

The crash also set fire to the Crown Victoria and trapped 64-year-old Donald Forke of Wymore in its driver seat.

Rescue workers extricated Forke. A helicopter took him and Callahan, both suffering from serious injuries, to BryanLGH Medical Center West in Lincoln.

Investigators say Prothe overcorrected when his Jeep veered onto the shoulder of the highway. The southbound Grand Cherokee slid sideways into the front of Forke's northbound Ford, according to the Gage County Sheriff's Office.

Prothe, an Army reservist who grew up in Marysville, Kan., lived in Wymore and had been working at the state prison in Tecumseh since July 2009. His 3-year-old son lives in Marysville.

"There is no pain in the world worse than what we are going through right now," Prothe's father, Ron Prothe of Marysville, wrote on his own Facebook page Monday morning.

Cook, who lived in Indianapolis for decades and moved to Beatrice in 1973, had been owner and operator of the A&N Bar in Wymore since 1980. She also had worked as a receptionist in Beatrice.

She married her husband, Billy Cook, in 1953. She was a mother of five, but she was "‘everybody's mom,'" according to her obituary.

Monday evening, Forke remained in critical condition; Callahan, 21, of Cedar Bluffs, was listed in serious condition.

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