3 killed in crash on U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence

Two women and an 8-month-old boy were killed early Friday evening in a crash on U.S. Highway 59 that shut down lanes of traffic south of Lawrence for more than five hours.

The crash occurred around 5:40 p.m. Friday near mile marker 151.1, about 2.5 miles south of Lawrence, according to a crash report from the Kansas Highway Patrol.

The KHP determined that a 2004 Chevy Classic sedan was traveling southbound when its driver, a 20-year-old Ottawa woman, lost control for unknown reasons and crossed the grassy median into the northbound lane of traffic. A second car, a 2019 Nissan Sentra driven by a 62-year-old Topeka man, was traveling northbound and struck the first vehicle on its side, according to the KHP report.

Authorities pronounced all three occupants of the Chevy Classic dead at the scene — 20-year-old Tiffany Cox, 19-year-old Kiffany Mietchen, and 8-month-old Azreal Ubelaker. All three were from Ottawa, and Azreal was Cox’s son, family members and friends told the Journal-World Saturday.

Medics took the driver of the second vehicle, Craig Russell McKinney, to KU Medical Center for suspected minor injuries, according to the report.

The report indicates that both drivers were wearing seat belts, as was the 8-month-old boy. The report noted “unknown seatbelt” for Mietchen.

The northbound lanes of Highway 59 were closed throughout the evening, with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office helping to divert traffic onto Old Highway 59. All lanes of Highway 59 reopened by 11:11 p.m. Friday, the Kansas Department of Transportation said.

Kiffany Mietchen’s grandfather, Jim Mietchen, of Baldwin City, said he and his wife had raised Kiffany. He described her as a “sweet and caring” young woman.

And Ottawa resident Oriana Alvarez said she and Mietchen had been friends since 2016, when they were both students at Baldwin High School.

“She was a great person who was always there for her friends,” Alvarez said, noting a Facebook posting of Mietchen babysitting Azreal for Cox.

The Journal-World was unable to reach any of Cox’s relatives Saturday.

Correction: The Kansas Highway Patrol’s online report identified the 8-month-old infant killed in the crash as a girl and that was reflected in an earlier version of this story. However, a friend of Cox and Mietchen told the Journal-World the baby was a boy, which Facebook postings also confirm.


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