HARPER — To a casual observer, the intersection of two dirt roads a mile south of this small town might seem an unlikely place for a collision.
The cropland surrounding the intersection is basically flat in all directions. There are no hedge rows or buildings to block a driver’s view. But at that same intersection Friday afternoon, two vehicles – carrying five teens from the same rural high school – met at the wrong instant, colliding with such force that two of the boys died, two suffered critical injuries, and a fifth was seriously hurt.
“What are the odds? And what are the odds that two carloads of teenagers would happen (to meet) at the same time?” Michelle Lindsay asked Monday. She lives near the crash site.
Any collision at the intersection would have been bad enough. But “it’s harder to swallow that it was teenage kids,” Lindsay said, struggling to hold back tears.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said an SUV and pickup truck entered the intersection at about the same time. The pickup, going north on Northeast 10th Avenue, commonly known as Whiskey Road, was to the right of the approaching vehicles and therefore had the right-of-way, the patrol said. The SUV was going east on Northeast 80th. The speed limit is 55 mph, and speed added to the severity of the impact, the patrol said Monday. The northbound pickup, a 2008 Chevy Silverado, hit the eastbound SUV, a 2004 Chevy Avalanche, in the passenger-side door.
Lindsay, who got home about 30 minutes after the accident occurred, spotted a baseball glove among the debris scattered by the wreck. The glove appeared to be with items that came from the SUV driven by 17-year-old Ayron Maurer of Harper. Lindsay said she thought Maurer’s family would want to have the baseball glove and made arrangements to get it to them.
Maurer had played baseball for Chaparral High School. He and his passenger, 18-year-old Samuel Cook, of Anthony, died in the crash. Another passenger in the SUV, 14-year-old Colin Nygaard of Anthony, has been upgraded to fair condition at Wesley Medical Center.
Joshua Campbell, the 15-year-old driver of the pickup, remained in critical condition Monday evening at Wesley. His 15-year-old passenger, John Eshelman, also of Harper, was upgraded to fair condition.
Jason Fahring, the high school baseball coach, said Maurer had come out for baseball late after moving into the district from Illinois and hadn’t played the sport since he was a lot younger. As a baseball player, he was a work in progress “but a fun kid to have around,” Fahring said. “He was fast,” so Fahring used Maurer as a pinch runner. “We called him Chicago.”
“He was a character, and I say that in a good way,” Fahring said. He was intelligent and always had a good, punchy one-liner, he said.
Fahring has coached four of the five teenagers involved in the crash.
Cook, the other teen who died, had a “special vocal talent” as a tenor, said his high-school music teacher, Eric Kerschen. “His tone was very pleasing, very easy to listen to. He had a very mature voice,” Kerschen said.
“And everything about him, the way he talked to people, the way he respected me as a teacher, was always very mature,” Kerschen said.
One of the first things Kerschen thought about after he heard about the accident was what it would mean for his school’s students. Cook and Maurer were going to be seniors this fall.
Several of Cook’s fellow music students called Kerschen after the accident and said the same thing: “We need to sing for Sam.” About 35 music students met at the high school Sunday. First, they embraced each other. And then they practiced two songs they plan to sing at Cook’s funeral: “Old Irish Blessing” and “You Raise Me Up.”
And the students wrote “Sing for Sam” in chalk on their car windows and on their teacher’s car.
Fahring, the baseball coach, said Chaparral High has suffered too many traffic deaths among its students. In 2005, three Chaparral High sophomores died when their vehicle collided head-on with a Kansas Department of Transportation dump truck. The accident happened just a few minutes after the students left school to sell yearbook ads in Anthony.
On Monday afternoon, cars slowed down or stopped near the telephone pole that bears scars from Friday’s collision. Plastic fragments littered the ground.
One man stood at the site. He had come there to show his respect and try to understand what had happened.
For his privacy, he asked that he not be identified.
“You cannot be prepared for this,” he said of the loss.
“There’s a lot of praying going on here in Harper County, that’s for sure.”
Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle