Physician at KU’s Watkins Memorial Health Center identified as pedestrian struck by train

Police cars mark the scene where a pedestrian was killed after being struck by a train Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. A person was hit by a freight train near the Santa Fe Depot.

Lawrence police identified a 56-year-old Lawrence physician as the pedestrian who was struck and killed by a train Monday morning in east Lawrence.

Patricia A. Denning was found near the Santa Fe Railroad station at Seventh and New York streets about 11:10 a.m. Monday.

No foul play is suspected in her death, Sgt. Trent McKinley said on Tuesday.

Denning practiced internal medicine and was a staff physician at Kansas University’s Watkins Memorial Health Center for 23 years. She served as chief of staff from 2005 to July 2012. Denning oversaw the community health response to outbreaks of mumps and H1N1. She also helped establish the Student Health Services Travel Clinic, which offers counseling, immunizations and health advice for those planning to travel out of the United States.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement, “Her contributions to the health and well-being of our students will be felt for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with her loved ones.”

Denning, originally from Topeka, was married to Dr. Dale Denning, a general surgeon and founder of the Lawrence Vein Center at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The couple moved to Lawrence in 1989 and have three children.

“She will be greatly missed,” said Nikki White, executive director of Health Care Access, a medical clinic in Lawrence that serves the uninsured. She said Patricia Denning volunteered her time at the clinic and attended nearly every fundraiser. “We are very saddened to hear of her death.”

Patricia Denning served on the Douglas County Dental Board and Lawrence Memorial Hospital Endowment Association Board.

Kathy Clausing-Willis, LMH vice president and chief development officer, said Patricia Denning served on the LMHEA Board from 2002 to 2008 and was the key motivator behind getting the surgery area renovated and expanded as part of a much larger $50 million project at the hospital. She saw the need for a better surgery area and insisted that it be included.

“Patricia was persistent,” Clausing-Willis said. “She thought they could get other doctors to help, and she did with the help of her husband, Dale. They raised a significant amount of money from the physicians.”

The $14 million surgery area opened in March 2009.

“She was an unbelievable individual,” Clausing-Willis said. “She was a mother of three, a professional woman, and I sat by her on the way to some meeting, and she was crocheting. There were not very many things that she could not master, and she was involved in a lot of things.”

For several years, Patricia Denning helped organize LMH Endowment’s annual “Stepping Out Against Breast Cancer Dance,” which raises funds to support the LMH Breast and Oncology Centers. She and her husband rarely missed the event, and they were known for sporting memorable costumes, among them: a pope and naughty nun, Mae West and W.C. Fields, and Hugh Hefner and a Playboy bunny.

“We’ve had some wild costumes,” Dale Denning said. “She and I loved to swing dance, and so that gave us a chance to dance.”

Patricia Denning

Denning described his wife of 30 years as thoughtful, energetic, smart and talented. He said she was passionate about giving back to the community, and so their family served meals at a homeless shelter and was active in church, the United Way of Douglas County and Lawrence public schools. She often knitted scarves and donated them to nonprofit organizations.

“She just felt very strongly that it’s important for us to give back to our community because we had been so blessed and there are so many people who are less fortunate than us,” Dale Denning said.

A Parish Rosary will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway, followed by visitation until 8 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the church. Private inurnment will be at a later date.

Sgt. McKinley said Tuesday that Patricia Denning was dead when emergency workers arrived. He said railroad workers initiated an emergency brake at some point, but he said it’s not clear how much warning workers had before the incident.

On New York Street, where the train crosses north of Seventh Street, there is an active warning system with automatic gates and flashing lights. Andy Williams, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which was operating the train, said the gates and lights were in proper working order during the incident.

The train was carrying 55 cars and heading west toward Topeka, Williams said.

At this point, the police investigation into the incident is nearly complete, and McKinley said he doesn’t anticipate much more information being released.