Wichitan killed in crash as other driver tried to avoid traffic stopped from earlier wreck

A Wichita woman died Monday morning after a van trying to avoid crashing into stalled traffic from a previous wreck ended up hitting her SUV.

The series of wrecks led to emergency crews closing both directions of U.S. 54, which doubles as U.S. 400, near Cheney in western Sedgwick County. Soon after the accidents were reported, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Tim Myers asked drivers to “slow down and proceed with caution when driving through dense fog.”

The highway is called Kellogg within Wichita city limits.

The first crash was reported at around 8:23 a.m. in the eastbound lanes of the highway about three-quarters of a mile west of the exit to 343rd Street West. A Kansas Highway Patrol crash report states that a 2000 Ford F-350 crashed into the back of a semi’s trailer as both vehicles were eastbound.

The 29-year-old Cheney man driving the pickup was taken to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis with suspected serious injuries, troopers wrote in the report. The passenger, a 29-year-old Viola man, was taken to the same hospital with suspected serious injuries.

The 48-year-old Wichita man driving the semi was not hurt.

A second wreck was reported about 3 minutes later about half a mile away.

Investigators determined a 2004 Chevrolet G2500 cargo van was eastbound on the highway when the driver swerved left to avoid stopped traffic. The van then traveled through the median and crashed head-on with a 2012 Ford Escape that had been westbound.

The driver of the Ford SUV was pronounced dead at the scene. She was identified in the KHP report as 30-year-old Mendi Kathleen Cotter, of Wichita.

The 36-year-old Pretty Prairie man who was driving the Chevy van was taken to Wesley Medical Center with a suspected serious injury. His 17-year-old male passenger, who was also from Pretty Prairie, sustained a suspected minor injury, though he refused medical transport at the scene.

Cotter had been taking one of her family’s vehicles to Cheney to be serviced after attending mass with her husband and children and dropped the kids off at school, Fr. David Michael of St. Paul University Parish at Wichita State said in a statement on Facebook. Cotter was the director of communications for the church.

“It was foggy,” Michael said. “There was an accident on Kellogg. A car coming from the opposite side tried to avoid the traffic stopped because of the accident ahead, came to Mendi’s lane and collided Head to Head. Mendi was pronounced dead at the scene. Please, Keep us in your prayers.”

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.