Tragedy shows sneezing can cause a fatal crash

Friends of a Kansas City single mother killed Wednesday in a car accident apparently caused by another driver’s sneezing attack prayed Friday for the mother’s 1-year-old son.

The boy, injured in the accident near Smithville Lake, remained in serious condition Friday at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

“We are pretty much in shock and just having a hard time wrapping our heads around the whole thing,” said Cheryl Krecker, a friend and colleague of Laura McClendon, 30.

McClendon had taken a new job this summer after working for about five years with Krecker at Cramer LLC, a Kansas City office seating manufacturer.

“She had just improved her career and was really getting her act together as a single mom,” Krecker said.

The tragedy highlighted the fact that deadly traffic accidents apparently caused by sneezing, while unusual, are not unprecedented. It also served as a reminder of the importance of wearing seat belts, said Sgt. Collin Stosberg of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

According to the patrol’s accident report, McClendon had not been wearing hers.

Her car collided late Wednesday afternoon with a vehicle being driven by Kathryn Brady, 44, of Smithville, according to the patrol.

The accident occurred after Brady’s minivan had turned into the eastbound lanes of County Road DD from Litton Way, east of Smithville. Brady started “sneezing violently,” according to the patrol’s report, and her minivan crossed the center line of County DD, striking McClendon’s car head-on.

The patrol cited Brady for careless and imprudent driving, as well as for having no insurance, Stosberg said. The patrol is continuing to investigate.

“We are looking at all aspects of possible inattention, such as cellphone use,” he said.

The patrol forwarded details of its investigation to the Clay County prosecutor’s office. But any action wouldn’t occur for several weeks, said Jim Roberts of the office.

Brady could not be reached for comment. She has taught since August in the Liberty School District, said district spokesman Dallas Ackerman.

Meanwhile, McClendon’s friends are still processing the news. Those included colleagues at the Kansas City business unit office of Ply Gem, a building projects manufacturer, where McClendon had served as a customer service representative since August.

“Laura was one of those people who had a lot of friends,” said Kurt Kuhnke, the unit’s senior vice president of human resources.

“It’s just a tragic situation. There’s not a lot we can do but send our thoughts and prayers out to her family.”

Before working at Ply Gem and Cramer, McClendon had spent about five years at Z International, a Kansas City office products manufacturing company that is no longer operating.

“Everyone is really shocked and devastated at the loss,” said Jim Holmberg, a former colleague.

“She was a special young lady who had a great heart and a really great attitude. She really loved working with people.”

The accident appears to represent the latest example of a sneezing attack contributing to a traffic fatality.

Last year a Salisbury, Md., driver told police he had suffered a sneezing attack before losing control of his van and driving into a tree. His passenger, a 30-year-old man, died.

Last year in England, a truck driver killed a man in Sunderland when his vehicle ran into the back of the man’s car, which had broken down on a highway. The driver told police he had been sneezing for 15 seconds and didn’t see the car.

Last month a jury found the driver guilty of causing death by careless driving. The driver was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and lost his driving privileges for a year.

More traffic experts are growing more alert to the dangers of sneezing behind the wheel.

Earlier this year a British insurance company announced after a study that the driving skills of those suffering from a cold or the flu dropped by an estimated 50 percent when compared to the skills of healthy drivers.

Their illnesses, the study suggested, reduced concentration and reaction time. Drivers who insisted upon getting behind the wheel while ill were similar to drivers who were under the influence of “four double whiskeys,” the company announced.

Drivers who find themselves sneezing must do their best to maintain control of their cars, Stosberg said.

“Any motorist is responsible for maintaining the highest degree of care,” he said.

“If drivers have any kind of physical impairment, sneezing or coughing, they must drive at speeds appropriate for that situation.”

Drivers, he added, “should always take their foot off the accelerator and steer to the right” to avoid colliding with an oncoming car.

Drivers must also be sure child car seats are installed correctly, Stosberg said. Although McClendon’s child was in his car seat at the time of the accident, Stosberg said, the patrol was still investigating as to whether the seat had been properly secured.

Seat belt use by drivers remains paramount, he added.

“Seat belts are the best protection against careless or impaired drivers,” Stosberg said. “No matter how safely you drive, you cannot control other drivers.”