Authorities say five people have died in a fiery six-vehicle wreck that temporarily closed a stretch of Interstate 70 on the western edge of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Kansas Turnpike Authority spokeswoman Rachel Bell says the pileup started Tuesday afternoon when a tractor trailer hit a car, a sport utility vehicle and another tractor-trailer just west of Bonner Springs.
The Kansas City Star reports that two people in the car and two in the SUV were killed. Both tractor-trailers were engulfed in flames.
Authorities later found the fifth victim and two other damaged vehicles while clearing the wreckage.
Three Topekans, including a Washburn University professor, were among those killed in the crash.
According to a KTA accident report, 83-year-old Sheldon Cohen and his wife, 79-year-old Virginia Cohen were identified as the victims riding in a 2012 Buick LaCross that was struck by one of the tractor-trailers. The collision forced the Buick into a guardrail, causing it to leave the road and land in a ditch.
38-year-old Ricardo Mireles, also of Topeka, was killed when his 2005 Ford Taurus caught fire after being pushed underneath one of the tractor-trailers.
Teresa J. Butler, 61 of Urbana, Illinois, and a 63-year-old passenger of the 2015 GMC Terrain she was driving were also killed in the crash.
The passenger in the Terrain has not been identified.
According to a news release from Washburn University, Cohen was a chemistry professor who had been with the university since 1960. He retired in 1999, but continued to serve as an adjunct professor.
In a statement, Washburn University President Dr. Jerry Farley called Cohen “a leader among the faculty and a guiding force in the Department of Chemistry.”
“From my earliest days at Washburn Dr. Cohen was a valued advisor. He was always thoughtful and considerate. He was an exceptional teacher. His students have often told me of the positive impact he had on them. Through his long service and commitment to students, he left a lasting legacy at Washburn. And, since his retirement, he and Virginia have continued to be engaged in Washburn activities. I offer our deepest sympathy to the Cohen family and to the entire Washburn community on the passing of these outstanding individuals.”
Bonner Springs Mayor Jeff Harrington described the wreck as “a tragedy” and offered condolences to the victims’ families.
The crash closed the highway in both directions for about two hours.