Willie Darryl Wilson was able to stop his Isuzu Trooper in time to avoid hitting the truck in front of him when traffic came to an abrupt halt on Interstate 435 that Monday afternoon.
Unfortunately for him, the driver of the tractor trailer behind him did not stop, setting up an afternoon conflagration on the super-busy highway in Overland Park.
Police have not concluded their investigation of the July 17 event, but they confirm the sequence of events that left Wilson critically burned and closed the highway for hours.
Those reports are based on witness accounts, forensic reconstruction and video from a city traffic camera.
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The crash occurred in a single, narrow eastbound lane that was blocked on both sides by Jersey barriers. The highway was in the midst of a major repavement project. Temporary barriers separated the work area from traffic.
Traffic within the constricted lane had stopped just past the U.S. 69 interchange about 5:20 p.m. For most motorists it was an inconvenience. For five drivers it became a nightmare.
Three passenger cars and two trucks were involved. One truck was a transport that hauls automobiles. The other was the tractor trailer.
The driver of the easternmost passenger car, at the front end of the chain reaction, saw the brake lights ahead and was able to stop in time.
The transport truck behind him tried to stop but “bumped” into the passenger car, said Overland Park police Sgt. James McNeely.
Wilson came to a stop behind the transport truck.
The tractor trailer behind him did not stop and Wilson’s vehicle was “sandwiched” between the semi and the transport truck in front of him and exploded into flames, McNeely said.
The tractor trailer veered to the right, shoved aside the temporary Jersey barriers and came to rest beside the transport truck. The tractor trailer also burst into flames, which spread to the transport truck.
The impact with Wilson’s vehicle flipped it around so it was facing west.
A woman driving a passenger car behind the tractor trailer was able to avoid a collision but her car ended up next to Wilson’s car and also caught fire. She was able to get out safely.
A screaming Wilson tried to climb out of his driver’s side window. Bystanders helped pull him to safety and he was taken by ambulance to nearby Overland Park Regional Medical Center. He was later transferred to the burn unit at Research Medical Center. There were no other serious injuries.
McNeely said neither drugs nor alcohol was involved in the chain-reaction crash. He said the driver of the tractor trailer was obviously going too fast for conditions. A final report is pending.