Complex scene with fatalities, fire, loose animals challenges responders

MARION COUNTY – Saturday shortly after noon, a Dodge Grand Caravan driven by Nathan Puett, 30, of Salina, crossed the centerline of Highway 56 traveling eastbound and hit a Ford F150 driven by James Potter, 70, of Emporia traveling westbound head on.

James Potter, his passenger, Jody Potter, 61, and Puett all died as a result of the crash. Two children, ages 3 and 5, passengers of Puett’s vehicle, were transported to Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, with suspected serious injuries. The children were appropriately restrained.

Potter’s vehicle was towing a trailer with 20 greyhounds – three dogs died on scene while the remaining animals ran loose. As of press deadline Monday, one, possibly two dogs, may still be at large.

Animal Health Center of Marion Co. has spearheaded the care, treatment and coordinating placement of the dogs with Potter’s family.

Dr. Jessica Laurin of Animal Health Center said of the dogs in its care, Most of them are in pretty good shape. Most of them ate really well [Sunday] night.”

If residents see an escaped dog, Laurin said, They are probably disoriented, nervous and scared of people. It is best to let them approach you.”

The animal clinic has established a fund to help offset the cost of the dogs’ care, as well as a GoFundMe – Greyhounds in Marion Co. Crash.

Marion County Sheriff Robert Craft said the accident was a complex scene, with fatalities, injuries, a fire and animals on the loose.

Craft said the stretch of Highway 56 where the accident took place is not necessarily accident-prone.” He said Kansas Highway Patrol has taken over the accident investigation. According to Kansas Highway Patrol, official reports and findings may take 60 to 90 days to be processed due to the fatalities.

Craft said the accident scene was a model of interagency cooperation with police and emergency response teams from Marion County, Hillsboro, Marion and Kansas Highway Patrol working together to secure the scene and give aid.

On a scene with several risk factors, Craft said, the first priority is to ensure the safety of those involved in the accident and on the scene.”

After safety has been ensured, Craft said crews then focus on fire prevention and scene preservation.

Any accident, especially a multi-vehicle, is technically a crime scene until it is determined what happened. As a potential crime scene we want to ensure we don’t destroy evidence like the point of impact. We knew this one was getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

Kansas Highway Patrol was called in for assistance, as the state’s department had resources in Salina and Emporia.

Craft said securing the dogs that were loose on the scene was important because the dogs could jeopardize other motorists by striking them, and the welfare of the canines.”

Kansas Highway Patrol brought out the Critical Accident Highway Reconstruction Team to take measurements and reconstruct the crash to produce a more detailed report.

Craft said working quickly with other departments also meant faster notification for families of the deceased.

We don’t want next of kin to read on Facebook or hear on the news a loved one was killed in a car wreck. We coordinated with other departments to make personal notifications by law enforcement to next of kin so they don’t have to hear it on the news or read it on social media,” said Craft. Craft added with Kansas Highway Patrol’s extensive network of officers, police could be dispatched to Salina, Emporia and to the hospital in Wichita and they have more resources in those areas.”

Traffic was rerouted around the scene for several hours on Saturday afternoon and into early evening. Detours around the scene were coordinated with Kansas Department of Transportation. Craft said KDOT works to keep heavy traffic off county roads when possible, but when faced with an emergency and potentially long delays, traffic is rerouted wherever possible.

Craft said serious accidents with fatalities take a toll on the responders arriving on scene.

It’s not pleasant to see or handle or move a person who is deceased in an accident. I applaud their ability – EMS and fire and officers as well – to be professional and maintain their work ethic,” said Craft.

The departments will sit down for a critical incident review available to all personnel involved. Craft said the meeting will be a chance to discuss what went well, what went wrong and how we can improve.” Support and additional services will also be offered at that time for responders coping with distress from the incident.