Archive for Friday, April 5, 1996


April 5, 1996


Thursday's accident was the sixth fatality on U.S. Highway 59 between Lawrence and Ottawa in the past year.

U.S. Highway 59 has claimed another victim.

On Thursday, a Lawrence High School sophomore was killed and a 39-year-old Lawrence woman injured in a two-vehicle collision on the highway about five miles south of the city.

Erin O'Donnell, 15, rural Lawrence, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred about 6:40 a.m.

The 1995 Dodge Neon she was driving north apparently drifted to the right shoulder. When Erin overcorrected, the vehicle crossed the center line and collided with a 1994 Toyota Camry being driven south, said Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Paul Alexander.

The driver of the Toyota, Donna Coffman, 39, was taken from the scene by Life Star helicopter to the Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan. She was listed in critical, but stable, condition Thursday night, according to a nursing supervisor.

Coffman is a pharmacist for Owen Health Care in Ransom Memorial Hospital, Ottawa.

The accident, which happened just north of Pleasant Grove Hill, occurred not long after Erin pulled out of her driveway on her way to school, Alexander said.

Erin lived near the top of the hill, he said.

"We don't think she lost control before she left the road," Alexander said. "She could have been distracted -- who knows?"

The front of the Toyota struck the driver's side of the Dodge, he said.

Authorities said there was no indication alcohol or drugs were involved. There were no passengers in either vehicle.

An air bag may have prevented Coffman from sustaining more serious injuries or death, Alexander said. Air bags on both vehicles were activated.

At LHS, Erin was taking a "heavy academic load" and was active in theater and music, principal Brad Tate said.

School counselors spoke Thursday with at least 125 students who were distraught by Erin's death.

"Everybody is kind of in a state of shock," Tate said. "There were a lot of people who knew her. I think there are a whole bunch of people who took this very hard."

Meanwhile, an employee of Ransom Memorial Hospital said workers there were relieved that Coffman, who commutes on U.S. 59, survived the accident.

In 1995, five people died in accidents on the stretch of U.S. 59 between Lawrence and Ottawa.

"Ever since Terry Lewis died, we've been real wary here" of driving the highway, said Donna Moore, human resources assistant at the hospital.

Lewis died in November from injuries suffered in an accident on U.S. 59 in September.

Officials in Franklin and Douglas counties have said that the road should be widened because it is too dangerous.

Thursday's accident occurred on a relatively safe stretch of the road. The most dangerous sections are south of Pleasant Grove, said Douglas County Undersheriff Don Schwartz.

The posted speed limit on the road is 55 mph. But a recent change in state law increased the speed limit on the road to 65 mph.

Alexander said there was no indication that either vehicle in Thursday's accident was traveling at an excessive speed.

Services for Erin are pending at Warren-McElwain Mortuary.


Fatal accidents on U.S. Highway 59 in the past year:

  • April 29, 1995 -- Robert B. Moore, 69, and Janelle Moore, 67, Ottawa, died in a head-on crash about 12 miles south of Lawrence, just inside Franklin County. Robert Moore veered into northbound lane and collided with a northbound car driven by Neil W. Westphal, 56, Oskaloosa. Westphal was injured.
  • Sept. 25, 1995 -- Lori A. Farrar, 34, Ottawa, died in a head-on crash 3/4 mile north of the Douglas-Franklin County line. The Kansas Highway Patrol said she was southbound when she crossed the center line and struck a northbound van driven by Terry A. Lewis, 46, Ottawa. Lewis died Nov. 5 at St. Francis Hospital in Topeka.
  • Nov. 9, 1995 -- George Hildebrandt, 28, Leavenworth, died about five miles south of Lawrence. He was killed when his cement truck overturned after he swerved to miss a vehicle that was driving on the wrong side of the road. The car left the scene. It was a 1990s Mazda RX-7, gray or silver, possibly with a Colorado or Oklahoma license plate.
  • April 4, 1996 -- Erin O'Donnell, 15, Lawrence, died after her northbound car crossed the center line and collided with a car driven south by Donna Coffman, 39, Lawrence, about five miles south of Lawrence. Coffman was injured.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.