Archive for Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Schmitz killed in U.S. 59 collision

May 25, 2005

By Alicia Henrikson
A Baldwin woman, Elaine M. Schmitz, was killed and an Ottawa man seriously injured Wednesday when a car and truck collided about six miles south of Lawrence on U.S. Highway 59.

"This is the worst (accident) I've ever seen out here," said Lawrence resident Jim Butell, who owns a farm about half a mile south of the collision site. Butell headed over after seeing the lights from about 20 emergency vehicles and a helicopter. "This is a bad corner. I have never seen it this bad, though."

The accident happened between 1:15 p.m. and 1:25 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 59 and County Road 460 near the Zarco 66, 718 East 1300 Road.

The collision involved a silver Chevrolet Malibu and a sand truck. The woman driving the Malibu died at the scene. The woman was identified as Elaine M. Schmitz, 45, of Baldwin. The truck driver -- Ottawa resident Garold Marconette, 57 -- was taken by helicopter to the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.

Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Dan McCollum said the Malibu's driver was traveling west on County Road 460 and entered the intersection. At the same time, the tractor-trailer full of sand was heading south on U.S. 59.

"The tractor-truck struck the silver Malibu in the passenger side door and drove it into the parking lot of the Zarco fueling station," McCollum said.

The crash sheared the Malibu in half. The front portion of the car came to rest in the gas station's parking area. Remnants of the car's rear end could be seen by the station.

McCollum said the sand truck turned onto its side and skidded into the gas station parking lot, taking out some fuel pumps along the way.

No gas leaked from the pumps because they were turned off, he said.

Overbrook resident Jim Hamilton was stopped at the intersection and witnessed the accident.

"She acted like the intersection wasn't even there," Hamilton said of the woman driving the Malibu. "She just drove straight into it and the semi was right there. She didn't swerve. She didn't put on the brakes. There wasn't time."

Hamilton said he called into work after the collision and said he wouldn't make it Wednesday.

"I'm going to go home and hug my kids and tell them never to do anything but drive and pay attention when they're driving," he said. "This was just awful. I've never seen anything like it. It was just awful."

Members of the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical hazardous materials control team worked to control runoff of fluids -- such as oil and radiator fluid -- from the wrecked vehicles, said Mark Bradford, deputy chief.

After the collision, the Zarco station was roped off with yellow crime tape. Law enforcement officers limited traffic to the northbound lane of U.S. 59, causing a backup of traffic.

Stan Zaremba, an owner of the Lawrence-based chain of Zarco 66 convenience stores, said it could be weeks before the store reopened.

Major portions of the concrete will have to be ripped up to repair gasoline pipes underground that were likely damaged when the truck ripped the gas pump out of the ground, Zaremba said.

But he said he was relieved that no store employees or customers were hurt.

"We're just thankful that it didn't go another 20 feet or else it would have been in the store," Zaremba said.

To improve driver safety, the Kansas Department of Transportation plans to turn U.S. 59 into a four-lane freeway between Lawrence and Ottawa. The project is estimated to cost $210 million. Bid letting on the project will begin in spring 2007.

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