The investigation of a fatal accident in which flooding sucked a 21-year-old man and his car through a Kansas Turnpike culvert near Emporia found that there was 6 to 10 inches of water covering the roadway when he lost control of his Mustang, officials said Thursday.
An eyewitness said he saw a whirlpool of floodwater at the drainage culvert suck Zachary Clark of Keller, Texas, to his death the evening of July 10.
The drainage culvert, installed around 1955 when the turnpike was constructed, needs to be enlarged, and there have been plans to do that, Kansas Turnpike Authority CEO Steve Hewitt said in an interview Thursday. But there is no guarantee that future flooding won’t overwhelm even an expanded culvert, he said.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority on Thursday released new information based on the Kansas Highway Patrol’s final investigation. The statement said a witness right behind Clark’s Mustang indicated that traffic was moving about 70 mph at the time of the accident, about 5 p.m.
The accident occurred at mile marker 118 on the turnpike stretch of northbound I-35. The location is about six miles south of Emporia and two miles north of Jacob Creek, where in 2003 flash flooding swept cars into the creek, killing six people, including a Kansas City area woman and her four children.
Thursday’s Kansas Turnpike Authority statement gave this account based on the final Highway Patrol investigation:
Heavy rains caused “localized flash flooding.” According to witness statements, 6 to 10 inches of water covered northbound lanes.
A witness directly behind the Mustang saw a semitrailer in the left northbound lane, slightly ahead of the Mustang, disturb the standing water, the Kansas Turnpike Authority said.
The Mustang driver lost control of his car and went into the northbound ditch, about 150 feet south of a drainage culvert. In a two- to four-minute span, the Mustang floated about 150 feet to the culvert.
“After that, the force of the water moved the vehicle and its driver through the culvert,” the statement said.