Investigators are trying to determine whether a wreck that killed five people Saturday on Interstate 435 was caused by their car running out of gas or breaking down in traffic.
They are homing in on the Mazda’s gas tank to learn how much fuel was in the car when it stopped in the right lane nearest the highway shoulder and was slammed from behind by an 18-wheel truck.
“The tank, we’re hoping, was not ruptured,” said Sgt. Bill Mahoney, a supervisor in the Kansas City Police Department’s accident investigation section. “If the tank was ruptured, it’s all conjecture.”
The crash occurred about 5 p.m. in the southbound lanes of I-435 in east Kansas City. It killed Shante Hopkins, 24, of Warrensburg, and three of her children. A 17-year-old friend of Hopkins from Kansas City also was killed.
Police said Hopkins was driving on a revoked license, but Mahoney said investigators did not know why she lost her license.
Hopkins’ car was hit when it stopped on the highway on an uphill grade as it approached Eastwood Trafficway near the Truman Sports Complex. The speed limit in that area is 65 mph, Mahoney said.
A truck hauling furniture to Texas from Minnesota slammed the car from behind. No other details about the trucking company and the driver were available Monday. So far, Mahoney said, fault in the accident hasn’t been determined.
Police don’t know why the car stopped in traffic. One witness said the car was driving very slowly just before the crash.
Mahoney said investigators might never know why the car stopped. It is impossible to know if the engine gave out because the car is so severely damaged it can’t be started, he said.
“Some wrecks don’t give you very much,” Mahoney said. “We’ve had wrecks where the cars all burned up. You don’t get very much out of that.”
Among other things, police still need to map the crash scene. From that, they could determine to what degree the truck driver could have seen that Hopkins’ vehicle had stopped in traffic.
Mahoney said it was possible that traffic between the truck and a stopped car could have obstructed the truck driver’s view.
The state accident report on the crash is expected to be completed within a week, Mahoney said. The full crash reconstruction report could take about two months, he said.