SMITHVILLE, Mo. -- A 30-year-old Kansas City woman is dead after a driver says a fit of sneezing caused her to lose control of her minivan. The sneezer, a Smithville woman, remains under investigation following the deadly head-on collision Wednesday. Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers call it an unusual accident.
"Sometimes you can't control whether or not you are going to sneeze," said Sgt. Collin Stosberg of the highway patrol. "But you still have to be traveling at a speed slow enough where you don't have a crash or lose control."
The accident happened on a 2-lane highway where Stosberg says most of the state's deadly crashes occur because small shoulders leave little margin for error. In this case, sneezing is being blamed for causing a driver to stray too far across the center line.
The state patrol says Laura McClendon, 30, was killed after a minivan driver veered into oncoming traffic on Route DD near Litton Road just before 6 pm Wednesday. The minivan struck McClendon's car head-on. 1-year-old Jet Kirkland was traveling with McClendon and suffered serious injuries in the crash. The minivan driver, 44-year-old Kathryn Brady, of Smithville, told troopers she lost control after she started violently sneezing.
"I think we've all been behind the wheel where you find yourself sneezing," Sgt. Stosberg said. "It becomes very dangerous. You're still required by state law to maintain the highest degree of care. So if you find yourself in a sneezing attack or a coughing attack to travel at a speed slow enough to where you maintain control of your vehicle."
Troopers issued traffic tickets to Brady under Missouri's careless and imprudent driving statute. The case will be reviewed by the Clay County Prosecutor to determine if more serious charges are warranted.
The highway patrol says the victim was the only one who wasn't wearing her seat belt. And that may be just as important a factor as the sneeze.
"These state numbered and state lettered highways, it's highly important you always maintain the highest degree of care whether it's bad weather conditions or it's as simple as putting on your seatbelt." Sgt. Stosberg said.
Traffic deaths in Missouri are up 6 percent so far this year. And in 2 out of 3 of them, the victims were not buckled up.
Troopers say the sneezer, Brady, was belted in and suffered only minor injuries in the crash.