Members of the Rajanna family were on their way to Arrowhead Stadium Sunday for an afternoon of tailgating and the Chiefs game when tragedy struck from behind.
Chandan Rajanna, a 17-year-old senior at Shawnee Mission South High School, was driving the family’s Maroon Mitsubishi Lancer when it happened. His father Krishna Rajanna, 81, and older sister Lisa Allen were riding in the car with him.
They were stuck in the slow-crawling game traffic about 4 p.m.
That’s when an off-duty Kansas City police officer driving a department van rear-ended the family’s car in the northbound lanes of I-435 just south of Stadium Drive, causing a pileup. The officer, Kansas City police said, was on his way to an off-duty assignment at Arrowhead Stadium.
Chandan was killed. His father was in critical condition Monday at Truman Medical Center. Relatives said his sister suffered a brain injury and they are not sure about her recovery.
Chandan was the youngest of five. He had three grown brothers. Their sister is the oldest.
His brothers spent most of the day Monday at the hospital, checking on their dad and sister, and trying to come to grips with the death of their young brother who they described as “an extraordinary kid.”
“He was thoughtful and loving and he enjoyed family tremendously,” said Kris Rajanna, one of the brothers. “He was adventurous,’’ said another brother, Ravi Rajanna.
In June Chandan traveled alone to Iceland on a journey he had always talked about taking, his brothers said.
He is listed on the 2018 Shawnee Mission South football team roster as a cornerback for South’s Raiders, and was set to graduate in the spring. His brothers said many of Chandan’s school friends have reached out to them since the wreck.
School officials said they are providing counseling for students who need it.
In a letter to parents, Todd Dain, principal at Shawnee Mission South, said school officials have reached out to the family to offer their condolences and support. “We want you to know that we are here to help in any way we can,” Dain wrote, asking also that students and teacher keep the Rajanna family in their prayers and thoughts.
Chandan scored a 32 out of a possible 36 on his college entrance exams and wanted to become a veterinarian. He had spent part of the summer volunteering with area vets “hoping he might eventually get a job with one of them,” his brother Ravi Rajanna said.
“He was excited about going off to college in the fall,” and was most interested in the University of Colorado. He was planning to visit the campus in the next few months.
Family was “very important to him,” Kris Rajanna said. Last year Chandan, on his own, tracked down an estranged half-sister living in North Carolina.
“He wanted to know who she was,” Ravi Rajanna said. “He found her and got her back in touch with all of us. “
At home in Overland Park with his aging father and ailing mother, Chandan lived a different life from other teenagers, his relatives said.
“He is kind of taking care of his father, as a high school senior,” Ravi Rajanna said. “They have an interesting relationship.”
On the day of the wreck, Chandan’s brothers and their families had plans to meet their youngest brother, their father and sister at Arrowhead.
“We were just a few minutes behind them, stuck in game traffic.” Ravi Rajanna said. “We came up on the accident and we commented on what bad condition the car was in.”
So mangled, they said, that they did not recognize it was their family’s car.
After Chandan and the others failed to arrive at the stadium, “It dawned on us that it was a reddish car in that wreck,” Ravi Rajanna said. “But the whole time I’m telling myself no it definitely can not be them.”
Learning about Chandan’s death has been tough for his brothers. “Nothing prepares you for something like that,” Neil Rajanna said.
The entire family is struggling with it, said Julie Rajanna, who is married to one of the brothers. “Everyone was so excited to see what he was going to do with his life,” she said. “He was such an impressive spirit. It really is not fair that it would turn out this way.”
Her husband Kris Rajanna agreed. “What a loss he was,” he said. “He was an impressive kid and he was going to be an impressive adult.”
On Monday, Kansas City police released a written statement, for the first time confirming that the officer involved in the crash was on his way to an off-duty assignment at Arrowhead. He was also injured in the wreck.
The officer is assigned to the Police Athletic League, where he serves as a mentor and youth coach.
As part of his duties there, the officer works with many youths the same age as Chandan, “which makes this all the more tragic,” Police Chief Rick Smith said in the statement.
The officer has been with the department for six years. The Police Department did not release his name or age.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of this crash and their loved ones who are hurting,” Smith said. “Speaking on the behalf of all members of KCPD, we wish this accident never occurred.”
The officer will not be at work for several days while he recovers from his injuries. No administrative action has been taken against him, police said.
The Police Department operates its youth athletic league at 18th Street and White Avenue.
Police have not released details about what led up to the crash, which is still under investigation.
On Sunday a department spokesman said the police van knocked the Rajanna family’s Lancer into a white Ford Edge, which was forced into a black Chevy Suburban, shutting down three lanes of traffic on northbound Interstate 435 for several hours.
The police van, after striking both the Lancer and the Ford Edge, came to rest to the north of all three other vehicles involved in the crash.
No one in the Ford Edge or the Suburban were seriously injured.
On Monday the Police Department’s traffic wreck investigation unit returned to the scene at Interstate 435 near the Eastwood Trafficway, to reconstruct the crash.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is assisting with the investigation.
“We want to do this right, not fast, so it will take some time to determine what happened,” Smith said.
Anyone with information about the incident should call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).