A semi-trailer truck “crested a slight hill” moments before slamming into several vehicles stopped by a bottlenecked construction zone on I-70 in northeast Kansas on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
The chain-reaction collision, which occurred at 2:23 p.m. near Bonner Springs, ultimately involved six vehicles. Five people were killed and one was injured, according to the turnpike authority.
Because of the construction work at the eastern end of the Kansas Turnpike terminal, traffic was backed up for about 2 miles in the westbound lanes of I-70. An Indian Creek Express semi was heading west on I-70 in the outside lane and “perceived the other traffic late” after cresting the small hill, the report said.
The driver of the Indian Creek Express semi slammed on the brakes but struck a GMC Terrain SUV, then a Buick just in front of the SUV, then a Ford Taurus. The impact forced the Taurus under the rear of a USXpress semi-trailer, which was knocked forward and struck a Chevy Avalanche stopped by the bottlenecked traffic.
A fire ignited, burning both semis and the Ford Taurus, the turnpike authority said.
Authorities have released the names of the five people killed in the incident:
▪ Teresa Butler, 61, of Urbana, Ill., who was driving the GMC Terrain.
▪ Karen Kennedy, 63, of New Palestine, Ind., who was a passenger in the Terrain.
▪ Sheldon Cohen, 83, of Topeka, who was driving the Buick.
▪ Virginia Cohen, 79, of Topeka, who was a passenger in the Buick.
▪ Ricardo Mireles, 38, of Topeka, who was driving the Taurus.
The driver of the Indian Creek Express semi, a 56-year-old man from Houston, may have been injured in the collision, according to the turnpike authority.
The incident closed I-70 in both directions for a few hours, authorities said. Eastbound lanes opened fully to traffic by about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, though westbound lanes didn’t reopen until about 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.