Purchase photos

3 killed in accidents

1/17/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Three people were killed Thursday afternoon in an 11-vehicle pileup west of Rexford as blowing dust reduced visibility to zero in places.

The victims were from Colby, as well as Colorado and Texas.

It was just one of several injury and non-injury accidents occurring Thursday afternoon as a cold front brought strong winds that sent dry dust aloft, blotting out the sun.

The Kansas Department of Transportation closed a number of highways in far western Kansas, including Interstate 70 from Burlington, Colo., to Colby. Other highways were closed in the area as well.

Visibility problems for the most part were the greatest in the six most northwest counties of the state, according to Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Hileman.

But it was the 11-vehicle crash that closed U.S. Highway 83 and required a number of KHP troopers to handle.

Troopers still are sorting out details of the crash, but the lack of visibility likely was the cause of the chain-reaction accident.

Killed in the crash were:

* Leonard Scott Breeden, 51, Colby.

* Jerald L. Lamb, 66, Florissant, Colo.

* James Ocie Perrott, 57, Perryton, Texas.

Seven other victims of the 11-vehicle pileup reported possible injuries, and all were taken to Citizens Medical Center in Colby.

Hileman said there were two other crashes in the immediate vicinity of the pileup, one of them an injury accident, the victim a 69-year-old Alberta, Canada, man who was transported to Hays Medical Center for treatment.

There were a number of other non-injury accidents in the area, Hileman said, due to the reduced visibility as a result of the blowing dust.

At one time, there were as many as 15 vehicles involved in three separate crashes on U.S. 83 west of Rexford, heavily used by trucks hauling grain and cattle.

Reports continue to trickle in, but the National Weather Service office in Goodland reported winds in excess of 50 mph throughout northwest Kansas.

Goodland reported the peak wind speed -- 64 mph.

"There were particular areas where there was practically zero visibility," Hileman said.

As winds started peaking, he said, there were reports of semis overturning on Interstate 70.

The 11-vehicle accident occurred at approximately 2 p.m. and prompted KHP dispatchers to direct all available on-duty troopers to the scene.

"They called all the night shift guys out to help," Hileman said.

As many as 12 troopers were on the scene of the crash.

The crush of people either driving or riding in the vehicles involved in the pileup proved to be a problem as well, but Hileman said they were all transported by a school bus provided by the Colby school district to the nearby McCarty Dairy farm, which provided a staging area for the troopers. He said the McCarty family provided food and water to the people involved in the crash as troopers were conducting the investigation.

Several of the people ultimately identifed as injured were initially taken to McCarty's and were later transferred to the Colby hospital for evaluation and treatment.

"This was out of the norm," Hileman said of the severity of the crash, offering a reminder to motorists to slow down when conditions deteriorate, either as a result of reduced visibility or icy and snowy conditions. "It's better to wait the storm out in a safe condition."