After lengthy water rescue, police believe 1 occupant of vehicle that sank in Kansas River is still missing

photo by: Libby Stanford

Crews pull a vehicle out of the Kansas River after a water rescue operation Friday, August 3, 2018.

Story updated at 9:28 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, 2018.

Police believe three people were inside of a vehicle when it entered the Kansas River early Friday afternoon, but only two were accounted for after a lengthy water rescue operation, according to a news release Friday evening.

In the release, Lawrence police Officer Drew Fennelly said that a woman and a young child were rescued from the river and sent to area hospitals. However, he also said investigators believe there was another person in the vehicle at the time it hit the water — a person who was missing when the vehicle was pulled from the river at about 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“Friday evening, the vehicle was retrieved from the river, but no other occupants were inside the vehicle at the time of recovery,” Fennelly said. “Investigators still believe there was another occupant in the vehicle at the time it entered the river.”

The release said police were unable to speculate on how the vehicle ended up in the river, including whether it was intentionally or accidentally driven in.

Police had no information on the condition of the woman and child Friday evening.

Rescue operations began at around 1:15 p.m. Friday, the Lawrence Police Department said in an email to media early in the afternoon.

At around 2 p.m., a Journal-World reporter observed at least eight water rescue workers, an inflatable watercraft and what appeared to be a tow line in the water just west of the western Kansas River bridge. About 20 emergency vehicles were also at the scene.

The site was about 30 to 40 yards off the river’s southern bank. Rescue workers, who had waded into the river, were seen probing the water under the bridge with poles and with their hands.

The department tweeted at 5:19 p.m. Friday that the dive team was in the water attempting to locate and retrieve the vehicle, and a little over an hour later, a reporter saw the vehicle being pulled out.

A man at the scene who said he heard the responding sirens and turned his attention to the river as emergency workers arrived told a Journal-World reporter that he saw first responders pull a woman from the water and heard the woman tell the first responders that there were two children in the car with her and that one child was still in the car.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he saw first responders pull a small child from the water and put the child in an ambulance. He said he could not tell what condition the child appeared to be in.

The Journal-World could not immediately confirm the man’s account.

Crews stopped search and recovery efforts around 8:30 p.m. on Friday because of diminishing light, the news release said. Officers will remain on the scene Friday night and are asking that the public avoid the area, the news release said.

Search and recovery will continue Saturday morning, according to the news release.

— Editor Chad Lawhorn and reporters Sara Shepherd and Libby Stanford contributed to this report.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Emergency responders are shown on the banks of the Kansas River during a water rescue on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Emergency vehicles gather Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, on the southern bank of the Kansas River near 500 Vermont St., where a water rescue was underway.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Emergency responders probe the water of the Kansas River during a rescue operation on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World Photo

Divers search the Kansas River just west of the Kansas River bridge Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, in downtown Lawrence.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.