WELLINGTON — Investigators are trying to find out why a loaded tractor-trailer smashed into a toll booth on the Kansas Turnpike, killing the collector and injuring four people.
Turnpike officials were at the site Tuesday putting up a temporary toll booth on the plaza and keeping traffic moving smoothly, said Lisa Callahan, spokeswoman for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
The southbound rig, loaded with frozen food and dairy products, left no evidence of skid marks, said Lt. Joe Bott, of the Kansas Highway Patrol. The accident occurred about 2 p.m. Monday.
Supervisor Dennis Tangeman was in a turnpike office overlooking Interstate 35 toll booths near Wellington when he heard what sounded like an explosion.
He turned and saw the enclosed trailer of a big rig vault through the air where a toll booth had been. Moments later, he found the body of a longtime toll collector in the wreckage of her booth. The tractor-trailer, weighing about 65,000 pounds, had ripped the metal booth off its reinforced foundation and shoved it 30 yards down the interstate.
The rig struck two vehicles as it smashed through the booth, killing the toll collector and injuring at least four people, officials said.
Eva "Pat" Wood, 58, of Belle Plaine, died, officials said. At least four other people suffered injuries, but none was life-threatening, Bott said.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority identified the driver of the tractor-trailer as Neal A. Johnson, 45, of St. Peter, Minn. He was taken in fair condition to Sumner Regional Medical Center in Wellington.
The Turnpike Authority identified the other injured people as Nick W. Schnell, 48, of Hastings, Neb., and Kenneth J. Leqdeiter, 29, of Fort Worth. Another person, identified as Helen B. Walz, 79, of Holcomb, had possible neck injuries.
It was the first fatal accident involving a toll collector since 1970, Callahan said. Even minor accidents at toll booths are unusual. Signs tell motorists to reduce their speed from 70 mph to 10 mph as they approach toll booths.