Five people died and 13 others were injured — at least four critically — when a motor home crashed from Interstate 35 into an Osage County creek on Sunday morning.
Friends told a Minneapolis newspaper that the victims were members of a large extended Minnesota family who were returning from a Texas vacation.
The vehicle, described by the Kansas Highway Patrol as a Freightliner box truck set up with living quarters, was carrying 18 people and pulling a trailer when the driver lost control at 9 a.m., Trooper Don Hughes said. The vehicle was northbound when it struck a metal guardrail and then a concrete bridge rail about 15 miles southwest of Ottawa. The vehicle went over the bridge rail and down into the creek, killing the victims, which included adults and children.
The patrol said the 13 others were taken to hospitals throughout the region, including in the Kansas City area.
Mary Mackenburg-Mohn, a nurse practitioner who works in emergency medicine, was one of the first people to come upon the wreckage.
“Devastating,” she said of the scene. “It looked like that RV just exploded.”
While her friend, also a nurse practitioner, relayed information to a 911 call-taker, Mackenburg-Mohn made her way down the steep, rocky embankment to the wreckage.
“We knew right away it was not a good thing,” she said. “So much debris was everywhere. People were strewn everywhere.”
A woman was sitting in the water of the creek holding a seriously injured child. The woman was crying and screaming, but otherwise the scene was eerily quiet.
“There was very little sound,” she said. “Working in emergency medicine, that’s a very bad sign.”
A boy’s body was lying on the creek bank, she said. Several injured people were in the water.
The vehicle’s driver, a young man, was still in the cab. Mackenburg-Mohn said he was unconscious and had a “significant head injury.”
Mackenburg-Mohn said she tended to the injured as best she could until help arrived. She estimated that it was close to 30 minutes before the first ambulance could get to the scene.
Mackenburg-Mohn and her friend are also from Minnesota and were on their way home from a professional conference.
“I have never seen anything like that,” she said.
Troopers on Sunday night were still investigating the cause of the crash and whether any of the passengers were wearing seat belts. Some may have been unrestrained in the living area of the motor home.
Mackenburg-Mohn said a teenager involved in the crash told her that the family was returning to Jordan, Minn., from a vacation in Texas where they rode dirt bikes and ATVs.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the crash involved members of a large extended family from Jordan. Family friend Kathy Lapic told the newspaper that the family included a widow and 12 children ranging in age from 5 to young adults.
Overland Park Regional Medical Center released a statement late Sunday on behalf of the injured mother. The hospital said that Pauline Kerber, 46, was in critical but stable condition. Her son, Adam Kerber, 17, was in critical condition.
“Thank you for the outpouring love and support during this tragic accident. We appreciate the prayers of so many, and appreciate you respecting our privacy as we mourn our deep loss,” Pauline Kerber said in the statement.
Lapic said some of the family’s older children had remained in Minnesota while the rest traveled to Texas.
The family often traveled out of state for motorcycle races, especially since one of the teenage boys was having some success and was possibly on his way to a professional racing career, she told the newspaper.
“He had a lot of trophies,” Lapic said. “They would travel frequently out of state.”