BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. — The Kansas Highway Patrol has released the names of the victims from Tuesday’s fiery crash near a highway construction zone that killed five people on Interstate 70 at 174th Street on the Kansas Turnpike.
The tragedy began when the driver of an 18-wheeler apparently did not apply his brakes in time, hit several cars and then a semi, causing a fire.
The victims include:
- Sheldon Cohen, 83, of Topeka, Kan. driving a 2012 Buick Lacrosse
- Virginia Cohen, 79, of Topeka, Kan., (passenger in Buick)
- Ricardo Mireles, 38, of Topeka, Kan., driving a 2005 Ford Taurus
- Teresa Butler, 61, Urbana, Ill., driving a 2015 GMC Terrain SUV
- Karen Lynn Kennedy, 63, New Palestine, Indiana, a passenger in the 2015 GMC Terrain
Crash investigators say a Chevrolet Avalanche and a semi (USXpress commercial motor vehicle) were stopped for construction approximately two miles west of where the collision would occur. They were in the outside, westbound lane of I-70.
Butler, 61, (in the GMC), Cohen 79, (in the Buick) and Mireles, 38, (in the Taurus) were slowing and preparing to stop behind the Chevy Avalance in the outside lane when a semi traveling westbound crested a slight hill and, for an unknown reason, did not recognize that the traffic was stopped.
Brake marks on the pavement show the semi driver braked just prior to the first area of impact.
Butler’s GMC was forced toward the inside wall and rotated. The moving semi then struck the Cohens in their Buick, forcing it into a guardrail, rotating it 180 degrees until it came to rest in a ditch.
After striking the Buick, the semi kept its momentum and struck the Taurus that was directly behind the stopped semi. The Taurus was forced under the rear of the semi trailer. The speeding semi then struck the rear of the stopped semi, causing the stopped semi to strike the rear of a Chevy Avalanche that was stopped.
The impact caused a fire to ignite between the moving semi, the the Ford Taurus, and the stopped semi.
The driver of the semi that started the chain reaction was identified as Kenny Brezettee, 56, of Houston.
The Kansas Highway Patrol confirms there has been construction in the area, and that the appropriate signs were posted. Just as the sun was setting Tuesday, crews were still at the scene working to investigate and remove wreckage, heavy equipment had been brought in to help move some of it. Hours after the fiery crash you could still see smoke coming off of one of the semi trucks involved. One of the trucks was towed from the scene. All was cleared by 1:00 a.m., Wednesday and the interstate was reopened in both directions, but the charred evidence on the pavement and grass is still there for drivers to see where five lost their lives.
In an internet search of the victims, FOX 4 found a biography for the Cohens, who were renowned donors at Washburn University. Cohen joined Washburn in 1960 as an instructor in the chemistry department, and would be promoted throughout his career to professor, department chair, provost, academic vice-president, and executive director of institutional planning. He retired from Washburn University in 1999. Virginia was also an instructor of biology, earning a master’s degree in genetics from Ohio State University. She taught for several years before leaving to raise their children.