Treacherous weather pelted the Lawrence area all day and most of the night Wednesday, blanketing streets and sidewalks in about 5 inches of snow and plunging the city into a single-digit deep freeze.
Struggles with driving led to accidents all over, mainly dings and fender-benders in Lawrence, police said.
But the weather held serious consequences west of the city.
Two Emporia residents, including a 4-year-old girl, died after a two-vehicle collision about 9:50 a.m. on Interstate 35 north of Sunflower Road in Johnson County.
Norma A. Mendoza, 31, Emporia, was driving north on I-35 when she lost control of her Dodge Ram truck and crossed the median into southbound traffic. A southbound truck driven by Darrin E. Sammons, 38, Wellsville, struck Mendoza's vehicle on the passenger side.
Both Mendoza and a passenger, 4-year-old Desirae Mendoza, were killed. Desirae Mendoza was not wearing a safety restraint, according to a Kansas Highway Patrol report.
Sammons was taken to Overland Park Regional Medical Center. His condition was not immediately available.
The accident was the only fatal wreck reported in the area, although Lawrence Police said that the department was called to 60 wrecks in Douglas County, the majority of which were in Lawrence.
Two people were also admitted to Lawrence Memorial Hospital with weather-related injuries: one from a fall, the other from a sledding accident, the hospital said.
In Lawrence, police Sgt. Jim Haller was out on patrol during the day Wednesday, watching the dozens of minor bumps and dings between cars skidding on snowy streets.
"It's just been bad all over town today," Haller said. "Just a lot of minor accidents, nothing major."
Douglas County roads also were snowpacked and slick late Wednesday night, county engineer and Public Works director Keith Browning said.
County road maintenance crews were to work through the night salting and plowing the roads. It was a process that began at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
"They (the roads) are in as good a shape as can be expected," Browning said.
Haller said that sand trucks were out in force in Lawrence, although a quick drive around town in the early afternoon turned up many untouched, slushy roadways.
But the trucks were in action, street department manager Tom Orzulak said Wednesday afternoon.
Clear the sidewalks
According to city code, homeowners must have the city-owned sidewalks in front of their homes cleared of all snow and ice 24 hours after the snowfall stops. If a resident can't remove the snow, the city requires them to put sand along the sidewalk within a day after a snow storm.
If the snow isn't moved or covered and the city receives a complaint, it can issue a violation notice and charge the property owner $20 a day until they shovel or sand the sidewalk.
Orzulak was up at 5:30 a.m., readying a crew of 17 to hop in trucks and lay down sand and salt.
Sand, mainly. When temperatures are this cold - Wednesday's high was only 13 degrees - salt is not as effective, he said.
Even with a readied crew, reaching every street in Lawrence still takes about 10 hours, Orzulak said. And that's just the road treatments. After that, plowing the snow off city streets could take three days, with wider roads needing five trucks plowing at once to clear.
"We're at the point when we have to start," Orzulak said about the plowing process.
Until then, don't plan on roads being great. And, Orzulak said, as the city expands outward, a cash-strapped Public Works Department could take even longer to clear outlying roads.
"Each year it gets a little bit harder," Orzulak said.
Soon, the city will need to spring for additional trucks to maintain the same level of services, Orzulak said. Treating the roads quickly can help prevent potentially fatal wrecks.
But, sand truck or not, snowy, slick weather triggers an annual tradition: drivers re-acquainting themselves with countersteering, feathering the gas and tapping the brakes.
"First snow of the season," police Sgt. Haller said. "People just need to be careful out there."