Baker student killed in car wreck
Shock and grief enveloped the Baker University community after freshman Shawn M. Trager died Tuesday afternoon from injuries sustained in a three-vehicle accident earlier in the day east of Baldwin City on U.S. Highway 56.
"There is no right or wrong way to grieve, so we're letting it happen how it will," said the Rev. Ira DeSpain Wednesday, the morning after a memorial service Tuesday night in the Baker Chapel which was filled with more than 200 crying, somber students, faculty and staff.
"The Baker community is dealing with it in a way it does best -- surrounding itself with support," said DeSpain, who was with the Trager family at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., where Trager had been taken by LifeNet helicopter ambulance shortly after the 11:34 a.m. accident.
Trager, 19, Chillicothe, Mo., was a passenger in a car which was hit from both the back and front near Douglas County Road 1900. His brother, Aaron Trager, a 20-year-old Baker sophomore, was also a passenger in the car driven by Andy Potts, a 21-year-old sophomore from Richmond. Aaron Trager and Potts were treated and released from Overland Park Regional Medical Center. All three were members of the Baker football team.
The driver of the semi-tractor trailer involved in the accident, Yan R. McHenry, 46, Dallas, was booked into Douglas County Jail at 5:26 p.m. Tuesday on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and aggravated battery. McHenry was not injured in the accident.
According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, Potts was driving westbound on U.S. 56 and apparently slowed down to make a left turn onto East 1900 Road. McHenry's semi, which was also westbound, hit Potts' car from behind and sent it into the path of an eastbound van driven by Ron Nelson, 57, Baldwin City, the KHP said.
Nelson, long-time voice of the Maple Leaf Festival, was taken by ambulance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital where he was treated and released.
The accident scene was littered with various papers from the vehicles involved and numerous emergency vehicles were parked around the area. The stretch of highway from 1900 Road to the Baldwin City limits was closed to traffic until around 5 p.m.
There were other Baker students at the scene and the news of the accident spread quickly. When word was received late in the afternoon that Shawn had died, the grief spread quickly, too.
That was evident at the memorial service, where assistant football coach Bruce Young spoke to the packed house in the chapel.
"I recruited Shawn Trager. I recruited Aaron Trager," said Young. "When Shawn came in a room, he took it over. When he came on campus, everyone was his friend.
"He renewed my desire for football," he said. "He enjoyed life to its fullest. Everyone can take a piece from Shawn Trager."
Many of the thoughts and feelings shared at the service, led by DeSpain, went out to the family.
"It's a wonderful family that is dealing with the grieving. They have a strong faith," DeSpain said. "There were a couple of Shawn's sisters and his brother, Aaron, who was in the accident, who were at the hospital. There were several aunts and uncles, too. There was quite an extended family.
"I think from a perspective of a parent, the reality of a child's death is the most difficult thing ever to accept," he said.
Condolences came from all over.
"The university community is filled with sorrow following the death of Shawn Trager," said Baker President Dan Lambert. "We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends during this time of great sadness. His loss will be felt by everyone at Baker."
Funeral services will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church in Chillicothe. There will be family visitation Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the Lindley Funeral Home, also in Chillicothe.