Disastrous I-29 Crash Generates Lawsuit

July 22, 2013

Kansas City Star, June 30, 2001

Parents of two college students killed last year when their car crashed into a jackknifed truck sued two trucking companies Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

John and Peggy McGaha of Nebraska and Clyde and Lois Wetzel of North Dakota contended the companies’ drivers were negligent in the Jan. 23, 2000, crash.

Their children, Jay Wetzel and Sara McGaha, were trapped in their car after it slid into a semi-trailer that had jackknifed and blocked Interstate 29 near Missouri 273.

The wreck happened during a snowstorm and caused a chain reaction. Other cars piled into the truck and then a second semi-trailer crashed into the wrecked vehicles. Ruptured gas tanks and flammable cleaning supplies caught fire and sent flames 50 feet into the air. Besides Wetzel and McGaha, eight others died in the accident.

Tim Dollar, the Kansas City attorney for the McGaha family said the two had been burned alive.

Stephen Gorny, the Kansas City attorney for the Wetzel family, said the students had been returning from Christmas vacation to a college in Bolivar, Mo., when they died.

The lawsuits cite federal laws that require commercial trucks to operate slowly or pull over in dangerous conditions.

One defendant in the lawsuit is Killpack Trucking Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho, whose driver operated the first truck. Company officials could not be reached for comment. The other defendant is Hillyard Industries, Inc. of St. Joseph, whose driver operated the second tractor-trailer. Officials there declined comment.