Kansas Turnpike Chief Engineer Tom Wurdeman can't remember a single vehicle crashing through the highway's center concrete barrier since it was installed to prevent head-on collisions in 1992.
"We've had the barrier broken, and we've had people get up on it but never get through it," he said.
That all changed Wednesday morning outside Lawrence.
Twenty-six-year-old Chadwick Goldsberry, Independence, Mo., died after he overcorrected his Gallo Produce semi tractor-trailer to keep from driving off the road and careened through the barrier about 3 miles east of the East Lawrence turnpike interchange, a turnpike dispatcher said. The truck landed on its side in the eastbound lanes and was struck by another semi tractor-trailer at 6:36 a.m.
The driver of the truck that struck Goldsberry Julia Pridemore, 29, Gering, Neb. was taken by helicopter to Kansas University Medical Center, where late Wednesday she was listed in critical condition.
The fact that the barrier gave way is not considered a failure, Wurdeman said. Both the size of Goldsberry's truck and the angle of impact contributed to the barrier's breaking.
"It's designed to take an impact of a fairly large vehicle at about a 15-degree angle," Wurdeman said. "If you've got an 80,000-pound semi that hits it head-on, that's different."
The accident caused several other fender benders before emergency officials closed the turnpike to eastbound traffic for several hours, a turnpike dispatcher said. Lawrence resident Michelle Muiller, 34, was treated and released from Lawrence Memorial Hospital after suffering minor injuries when she rear-ended a car that had pulled over to let an emergency vehicle pass, a Kansas Highway Patrol accident report said.
One lane of eastbound traffic was reopened by 8:30 a.m., and two-lane traffic resumed at 1 p.m.
Jeff Johnson, a Lawrence resident who was in a vanpool with more than a dozen other commuters on his way to work in Kansas City, said he and his vanmates came upon the accident before emergency personnel arrived.
"There was a lot of debris in the road," he said. "We were stopped for maybe five or 10 minutes, maybe not even that long. There were three or four cars in front of us trying to negotiate a path around the vehicles. There were probably two or three cars that were stopped with people out and trying to help the people in the vehicles.
"We're lucky we weren't any earlier; we could have been involved in it."
Lisa Reynolds, human resources associate at Kansas City, Mo.-based Gallo Produce, said Goldsberry had worked there for about a year and a half and took the interstate to Lawrence every day. He was on his way to Lawrence to deliver fruits and vegetables when he died.
"He was very used to that route," Reynolds said. "This wasn't supposed to happen. He was a really great guy, married with a 9-month-old son."