Sheriff’s investigation into fiery crash that killed teen remains open; teen driving car had no license

photo by: Nick Krug

A memorial for Dalton Hess, pictured in July 2017, sits at the side of the road in the 1600 block of North 1650 Road just northeast of Lawrence.

It’s been six months since a sheriff’s deputy on patrol northeast of Lawrence spotted a fire and heavy smoke, drove toward it and found a wrecked car engulfed in flames.

He radioed for firefighters. After the flames were extinguished, emergency crews found a body inside, later identified as a 15-year-old Lawrence boy, Dalton Hess.

The driver of the car who authorities say lost control and crashed was another teen: a 16-year-old boy without a driver’s license.

It’s still unclear whether the driver will face any criminal charges. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the fatal accident still isn’t finished.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Kristen Channel said Friday that the investigation is not concluded but is close. She said final reports are expected to be completed and the case turned over to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office as soon as this week.

Dalton Eugene Hess

Channel added that it is common for the DA’s office to review all fatal accident investigations to determine whether any charges are warranted.

The autopsy report for Dalton also has yet to be completed, the coroner’s office said Friday.

While the sheriff’s office accident report was completed in the summer, it is still pending results of an impairment test.

According to the accident report:

The deputy found the burning car about 9:15 p.m. July 2, 2017, on North 1650 Road, east of East 1600 Road.

A charred spot along N. 1650 Road, just east of the Lawrence city limit, is pictured Monday, July 3, 2017. On Sunday night, a Douglas County sheriff's deputy discovered a body inside a burning vehicle that apparently had left the roadway. The incident remained under investigation Monday.

After Dalton’s body was found, the Lawrence Police Department’s accident reconstruction team was called to document the scene.

It appears the driver was westbound on North 1650 Road when he lost control of the car, drifted off the road to the right, then to the left, then crashed into a farm truck that was parked just off the road.

The car was a 2006 Hyundai Sonata owned by Dalton’s mother, although Dalton wasn’t driving; he was a passenger.

The teen who was driving “was located at the scene” and taken by ambulance to the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., according to the report.

The report doesn’t include details, and the sheriff’s office has not answered additional questions about the driver.

The driver was not licensed at the time of the crash, according to the accident report. He is now 17.

Hess was just a few weeks shy of his 16th birthday when he died.

His mother, Elizabeth Shelby, told the Journal-World after the crash that she and her husband, Kenny Hess, had purchased the Sonata to give Dalton for his birthday.

The night of the crash, she said, she drove the teens to her job as a home caregiver in Eudora, then let them take the car with the understanding they would pick her up after work.

Shelby said she got a call from her son shortly before the accident. He was asking how to get to Eudora from rural roads outside of North Lawrence. She said she told Dalton to call his father for help, and that was the last conversation she had with her son.

This would have been Dalton’s junior year at Free State High School.