‘He was just larger than life’: I-435 crash victim remembered for community volunteerism, ministry work

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- We're learning more about the man who died in a crash on Interstate 435 near 69 Hwy in Overland Park Wednedsay.

That crash happened around 3:30 p.m. and tangled up traffic for hours.

The family of Tom Apel, 65, is shocked and devastated by what happened. But in the midst of their grief, there's a lot they want the community to know about Tom and something they wanted to share with the driver who hit him.

A big bright smile and an unmatched personality are just some of the things Jean Apel will miss about the love of her life, Tom.

"Oh my gosh. He was just larger than life. He was like happy, outgoing, friendly, fun, loved to tell stories. He was just kind of the life of the party. Gregarious and funny, a wonderful person," Jean Apel said.

Tom was driving along I-435 just east of 69 Highway Wednesday afternoon, when he pulled off to the side of the road. His white Lexus can be seen parked on the side of the interstate in viewer dash cam video.

"I personally think he was, someone had called him and asked for help and he just pulled off to try to talk to someone or help someone," Apel said.

Jean said Tom pulled over to take calls all the time because his phone rang day and night, from people in, and just getting out of prison.

Tom Apel spent 20 years volunteering with Gracious Promise ministry, a commitment that became his passion after retiring from his accounting career earlier this year.

"People wanting help, just their car broke down, need a ride to work. We need a place to stay. We need some food. All kinds of needs. Even suicidal people. He'd talk to them and take them to places where they could get help," Apel said.

But another driver, heading down I-435 on Wednesday, veered into the shoulder, colliding with Tom Apel's parked car. The other driver was hospitalized with injuries. But Tom did not survive.

"We totally forgive that person because God has a plan and you know nothing goes beyond God knowing what's going to happen," Jean Apel said.

Jean was hoping she and Tom had many more years together, but she's still got a lot to be thankful for and knows Tom's legacy of giving will endure.

"It's a huge shock. Our community is so heartbroken to not have him here but we're just so blessed we had, for me 26 years of marriage, three kids and just so blessed we've had that," Apel said.

Tom Apel as also active with Heartland Community Church in Olathe and volunteered, raising money for the Center School District Foundation.

The family is requesting anyone who'd like to leave a memorial in honor of Tom, do so by donating to Gracious Promise.

Overland Park police continue to investigate the crash and are asking anyone who saw it to give them a call.

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