Victim in fatal Starkey crash touched a lot of lives, mother says

One of Dusty Atterbery’s favorite toys was an electric kick-scooter.
One of Dusty Atterbery’s favorite toys was an electric kick-scooter. Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: Dirk J. MacMillan, who was killed in the crash, was 46. His age was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

His heart had stopped beating.

The emergency room doctor told Kay Atterbery that her son, Dusty, had died around 11 p.m. Friday, and J.D. Atterbery “just absolutely lost it.”

J.D. Atterbery, 22, who is autistic, released his grip on his mother and started knocking things over on the hospital shelves.

He ran from the room and was later picked up by his case manager from the Arc of Sedgwick County, Kay Atterbery said.

Leonard Dustin James Atterbery, 25, was one of two Starkey residents killed Friday in a violent crash between a Starkey van and a Cadillac Escalade in west Wichita. The other victim was 46-year-old Dirk J. MacMillan, according to family members.

Dusty’s adoptive mother, Kay Atterbery, said Friday’s crash isn’t just a family tragedy, “it’s a community tragedy.”

“Nobody has any idea how much these children touch so many different lives,” she said Saturday.

‘A lot of lives that he touched’

Capri the tabby cat sat on the Atterberys’ motor home dashboard Friday evening, waiting for her Dusty to come home.

“How do I tell a cat her boy’s not coming home?” Kay Atterbery said, crying. “She loved him and he loved her. If he was angry, you could put Capri in his lap, and he would calm down. If he was upset or angry, she wouldn’t leave him alone.”

Dusty Atterbery’s death tore apart the life of his mother, as well as many others, she said.

He was her “Peter Pan – he never grew up.”

He loved toys. He would always save up his allowance to buy the latest Nerf gun. “He had bought every Nerf gun that’s ever been made up until last year,” Kay Atterbery said.

He loved to ride his kick scooter.

He loved to climb on Kay Atterbery’s motorized chair and take rides with her. He was so small he could fit in the seat with her.

He loved to dress up as Elvis and see the Elvis impersonators at Riverfest every year; he’d also ride the zipline over the river “as long as his money would hold out,” Kay Atterbery said.

He loved seeing the lights on St. Paul every year and would always sit in Santa’s lap to tell him what he wanted for Christmas.

He loved dressing up in costumes, and he loved his cat.

He was “so proud” to stand 5 feet tall, his mother said – he had had two steel rods implanted in his spine a year and a half ago so he could sit and stand up straight.

He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and was found by police when he was 6 weeks old, Kay Atterbery said. He was found in a dresser drawer, covered in yeast infection and urine, and “he had a bottle half full of whiskey and Coke,” she said.

Kay Atterbery adopted him, as well as three other mentally disabled children, and he graduated from Levy Special Education Center in 2012.

From there, he entered Starkey’s programs and moved into a Starkey house on Holyoke in 2013.

“Dusty knew no malice – he knew no venom or hate,” Kay Atterbery said. “It was a lot of people, a lot of lives that he touched. ... I could write a book on Dusty.”

‘It’s not her fault’

Before the Escalade ran into it, the Starkey van was on its way to pick up one more resident before taking all of them to where they lived on Holyoke, Kay Atterbery said.

The crash left the residents and two staff members in the van with shattered bones, shattered pelvises, brain damage, collapsed lungs and other serious injuries.

One person was ejected from the vehicle and landed near a front porch, according to Kay Atterbery.

A Starkey staff member who was on board was released from the hospital Friday, according to Via Christi.

The crash is “affecting her very badly,” Kay Atterbery said.

“She’s blaming herself, and it’s not her fault,” she said. “It’s not (the Starkey driver)’s fault. ... It’s not Starkey. They were doing what they were supposed to do.”

At a Saturday news briefing, police had no update on the case.

Wichita police Sgt. Nikki Woodrow said Friday that the driver of the Escalade is suspected of being intoxicated at the time of the crash.

Woodrow said that, after the crash, the man driving the Escalade attempted to flee but was quickly apprehended by police.

As of Saturday afternoon, the third Starkey resident remained in critical condition at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis.

MacMillan, the other victim of the crash, died at 6:48 p.m. Friday, according to a family member. MacMillan “was loved by many and will be greatly missed,” his nephew, Drew Davis, said in an e-mail.

Jamie Opat, Starkey’s director of communications, said Saturday the organization is hopeful the third Starkey resident, as well as the driver of the van, will survive.

“We are cautiously optimistic, based on the improvements that they seem to have made today,” Opat said.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

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