A Kansas City police van was going too fast when it slammed into three other vehicles last month, killing a high school student on Interstate 435, according to a police report released Thursday.
Witnesses said the van, driven by an off-duty officer, was going as fast as 70 mph when it started braking about 30 feet from the cars stopped ahead in heavy traffic heading into Arrowhead Stadium.
The Oct. 21 wreck killed 17-year-old Chandan Rajanna, a Shawnee Mission South senior, and severely injured his father and sister.
Details of the crash were provided in a nine-page crash report released Thursday by the Kansas City Police Department. The report came hours after The Star published a story noting the Police Department had failed to release it for more than two weeks.
“The primary contributing factor for the collision is that (the officer) was traveling at a speed higher than surrounding traffic, and was unable to stop, or avoid the vehicles in front of him, causing the collision,” the report said.
Police investigating the wreck that Sunday afternoon found that the weather was dry and clear, the road straight and tilted downward, on the stretch of I-435 south of Stadium Drive where several vehicles were stopped in traffic.
About 4 p.m., witnesses reported seeing the van hurtling down the interstate toward the stopped cars, traveling at speeds variously estimated from 50 to 70 mph, according to the report.
A witness said the van’s brake lights went on about two car lengths from the vehicles stopped ahead. Another witness said the van was 20 or 30 feet away when it “locked up the brakes.”
The sounds of “screeching tires” “and squealing brakes” were reported by drivers and passengers in surrounding traffic.
The van, braking and veering to the left, plowed into the 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer driven by Chandan, the high school senior, causing a chain reaction that also impacted two other vehicles.
The crash left Chandan’s Mitsubishi with “total damage to its entirety,” the report says. Chandan died at the scene, while his father and sister, whom he was driving to the Kansas City Chiefs game, were critically injured.
The police van, which the officer was driving to an off-duty job at the stadium, sustained “heavy front end damage.”
The officer driving the van, also injured, rushed to pull the Rajanna family from the wreckage, Eric Flanagan, a witness to the wreck said in an interview with The Kansas City Star.
“You saw a guy who was in deep despair and he was trying to do everything he could to help those people.” Flanagan told The Star. “It was the worst thing I have ever seen. I saw his face and he started sobbing.”
Flanagan said he tried pull on the passenger side door as the officer tried to yank it open. Fire crews and other police officers arrived moments later.
“I tried to hold him,” Flanagan said. “He put his head in his hands and was sobbing. He was screaming – ‘Oh my God.’”
The off-duty officer was rushed away by paramedics.
“It was just a horrible, horrible situation,” Flanagan said. “It’ll be something that I will never forget because it was pretty haunting.”
Although multiple witnesses and other drivers gave statements to police that were reflected in the crash report, the off-duty officer driving the van did not.
He still had not given a statement to investigators two days later, when Police Chief Rick Smith said he had “no idea” what caused the wreck.
Investigators reported that the off-duty officer showed no evidence of alcohol use.
Kansas City police have included the Missouri Highway Patrol in the crash investigation, which is ongoing.
Capt. Lionel Colón, a Kansas City police spokesman, said such an investigation usually takes several weeks.
By Thursday, detectives had spoken with the officer who drove the van in the wreck. But because of the ongoing investigation, Colón said, he could not comment on the officer’s statements.
“Thoroughness cannot be sacrificed for the sake of expediency,” Colón said Thursday. “Fatality accidents are understandably complex and time-consuming investigations. The hope is to have the investigation complete in the coming weeks to be turned over to the prosecutor’s office. ”
Until Thursday, the Police Department had not released a standard police report from the wreck, even though Missouri law requires it.
The Kansas City Star requested the incident report from the wreck one day after it occurred, on Oct. 22.
The officer involved in the wreck has not returned to work yet, Colón said.
That officer has been with the department for six years and is assigned to the Police Athletic League, where he serves as a mentor and youth coach. The Police Department has not released his name.
“As in all open investigations where possibility exists for a person to face charges, the identity of that person (is) to be withheld,” Colón said. “We respect the legal process and will honor it by not releasing the officer’s identity until which time is allowable.”
Since the wreck, Chandan’s father and sister have remained hospitalized.
His father Krishna Rajanna, 81, remained in the intensive care unit at Truman Medical Center.
Krishna Rajanna suffered multiple internal injuries in the wreck, including severe arm, rib and leg fractures.
Chandan’s sister Lisa Allen suffered a brain injury and was recently moved to a rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln, Neb.
The family has hired a personal injury lawyer.