POCATELLO —The two teenage siblings from Pocatello who died in a head-on collision on Sunday were as close in life as twins without actually being born at the same time.
Born exactly 15 months apart, Eric, 15, and Lauren, 13, Neibaur are described by their father, who’s also named Eric Neibaur, as the best of friends and the best of enemies.
“One of my favorite memories, and it continued to the very last day, was how they loved to torture each other,” Eric said. “But also, how they loved each other very much.”
A dynamic with a central theme of goofy playfulness common throughout their daily lives, the Neibaur family knew how special their bonds would become as early as day one.
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Nearly 10 years ago, when Eric wanted to marry the children’s mother, Bobbi, she said he not only wanted to marry her, but her kids, too.
“The first time he came over to meet our kids we all had squirt guns and we just pummeled him as soon as he got out of his truck,” Bobbi said. “I thought that if he could handle that he could handle us.”
Eric said he remembers the day clearly, and, like most fathers would, he had to one-up their watery antics.
“So I grabbed the water hose and went after all of them,” Eric said. “I think we got quite a bit of water in the house.”
When Eric adopted the kids, the younger Eric, born without a middle name, eventually took on the same middle name of his father and elder brother Brenden. From that day forward, he went by Eric Paul Neibaur.
Bobbi said the pair would play together for hours on end until one of them got hurt or upset.
“They didn’t really fight like normal siblings, they just knew how to pick at each other’s nerves,” Bobbi said. “Growing up, Eric said that Lauren would always be his best friend and he would never let anything happen to her. But it was Lauren who took charge and protected Eric more than he protected her.”
Just a grade apart, the pair attended Greenacres Elementary School and Franklin Middle School together, and Lauren was just about to join Eric at Century High School in the fall. Eric would have been a sophomore and Lauren a freshman.
When Eric started attending Franklin and Lauren still had one more year at Greenacres by herself, Bobbi said that Lauren had to call her for a ride to school because she couldn’t remember how to get there.
“Lauren said that she never had to pay attention because Eric was always there with her,” Bobbi said.
Smart, funny and athletic, both kids were involved in sports. Lauren participated in competitive gymnastics the previous four years and had just successfully tried out for Century’s cheerleading squad.
Despite efforts to get him involved in other sports, Bobbi said Eric only wanted to play on the gridiron.
“The only sport that Eric played was football,” Bobbi said. “I tried to get that kid to play anything else, to just try something else and he said, ‘Nope, I’m playing football.’”
Lauren was the social butterfly of the family. Her family remembers her as someone who didn’t care what other people thought of her making funny faces in restaurants and her nonstop quest to bring smiles and joy to all those who encountered her.
But Eric was more reclusive. He enjoyed spending time at home playing video games with either his cousin Isaac Ross or his best friend Dylan, who lived in the same neighborhood for 10 years.
“Lauren was all about people, she was friends with everyone,” Bobbi said. “She had a contagious goofiness about her and in fact, I don’t know anybody she wasn’t friends with at any school she went to. She loved making people laugh and just wanted everyone to be happy.”
She continued, “And Eric enjoyed the small circle of friends that he had but was more laid back and kept to himself. He played defensive line at Century last year at 135 pounds. And he freaking loved it, he loved it. He wanted to try and work towards playing running back and linebacker.”
Bobbi said the kids were hard workers, too, adding that in everything they did they wanted to do it right.
Regularly, Bobbi and the kids would go out to their soon-to-be 92-year-old great-grandmother’s house. They would mow the lawn, clean up after her dogs, take her to the grocery store and help set up and take down Christmas decorations every year.
The family also spent a decent amount of time at their grandfather’s mechanic shop, Harris Garage, in American Falls. To them, he was known as “Papa Garage.”
Throughout the past few years, the family started riding dirt bikes together. Over Father’s Day weekend, the same weekend of the accident, they were riding and camping in Big Springs, just east of Inkom.
“When we were riding last weekend, Eric got up to the top of this big hill and we were just relaxing a bit before we decided to take a shortcut back to camp,” Eric said about his son. “Instead of taking the trail, we took a Forest Service road that crossed the creek. It was about 3 feet deep and I went first to show him where to ride and he just went for it. When he got to the other side, he started hooting and hollering because he was so excited.”
Eric continued, “When we got back to camp my son said, ‘I think my boots are full of water,’ so he took his boots off and as he turned them upside down, water just started pouring out.”
That memory was from Saturday. The next day, tragedy struck.
The head-on collision that occurred on U.S. 30 near McCammon claimed the lives of Eric, Lauren, and Nampa resident Jay Lanningham, 70, who all died at the scene.
Lanningham’s juvenile passenger, also of Nampa, suffered serious injuries in the crash and was flown by air ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello. Authorities said the girl, whose name has not been released, was in critical condition but is expected to survive.
Eric was reportedly driving west in a red 1999 Chevrolet C1500 pickup with his sister as a passenger when his vehicle crossed into the eastbound lane and collided with a white 2011 Chevrolet Suburban driven by Lanningham.
On their way home, the teens’ parents were driving ahead of Eric and Lauren, and the elder Eric said they were checking in on their children in their rear view mirrors.
But as they approached McCammon, they realized something was wrong when Eric and Lauren were no longer behind them. Eric slowed down and called another relative, who said the kids were involved in a wreck and they needed to turn around.
Since the accident, Eric said that about 50 or 60 family members have come together in light of the tragedy, and the support from friends, family and complete strangers has been tremendous.
“One of the things that is just amazing to me is all the outpouring of support, not just from the family but from the whole community,” Eric said.
While the Neibaur family grapples with the loss of two of their four children, they want the Lanningham family to know that they also remain in their thoughts.
“We send them our prayers and wishes because they are dealing with the same situation,” Bobbi said.
When Eric and Lauren were babies, Heather Ross and her husband, Bob, would come and pick them up every Friday night like it was clockwork so that Bobbi could get some rest.
“They practically spent half of their lives at our house,” Bob said. “They were just as much our kids as they were hers.”
Bobbi said that Heather told her Tuesday morning that the only reason that God took both of them is because he couldn’t take just one. Because one couldn’t live without the other.
A viewing is scheduled for Friday at the Colonial Funeral home from 6-8 p.m. The services will be at Calvary Chapel at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with another gathering at Alameda Park after the burial.
“We want all the friends and family to come, sign the casket and share their memories of Eric and Lauren,” Heather said.
In lieu of purchasing flowers, the family said that a donation account has been set up with Citizens Community Bank, with all proceeds going to the Century football team and cheerleading squad.
“Everybody can say that they are friends, that they loved their siblings, or whatever they want, but those two were unique,” Bobbi said. “They had a magical connection.”