Residents Of Kansas Town Stunned By Crash That Killed EightAP , Associated Press
Jun. 23, 1988 6:59 AM ET
IOLA, KAN. IOLA, Kan. (AP) _ High school cheerleaders hung black banners in the town square in memory of two sisters and five of their children killed when a train struck their car at a rural crossing that lacked warning signals.
''It's a major catastrophe for Iola,'' said Bob Johnson, city editor of the Iola Register, the newspaper in the town of 7,000 people. ''There's shock. A lot of people were calling me at home last night in disbelief and shock.''
Kathleen Hastings, 31, was a basketball star and cheerleader when she graduated from Iola High School in 1975. Her sister, Lisa Maxwell, 26, was a homecoming queen and graduated in 1980. Both were honor students.
The collision occurred Tuesday near Cherokee, about 100 miles southeast of Iola. A paramedic collapsed and died trying to save one of the children.
''It just stunned us,'' Pat Friskel, the mother and grandmother of the victims, said Wednesday. ''You just can't expect it. To have it happen to so many of our children and their children. And all at once. You never think it's going to happen.''
Mrs. Friskel and her husband, Paul, are co-owners of Iola's funeral home and will handle the services.
All seven people in the station wagon were killed, including Mrs. Hastings' children, Cara, 8, Eric, 5, and Reuben, 3, and Mrs. Maxwell's children, Joel, 5, and Avery, 2.
In addition, Joseph R. Cobb, 48, director of the Crawford County ambulance service, died of a heart attack while trying to resuscitate one of the victims at a Pittsburg hospital.
''I'm sure there have been a lot of tears shed in this community, even by people who may not have known them all that well, because this strikes real close to home,'' said Iola Mayor John Carder.
Officials investigating the accident said Mrs. Hastings, who was driving, either did not see the Burlington Northern freight train or tried to race it to the crossing.
''As far as we can determine ... there was no attempt (by the driver) to avoid the accident,'' said Trooper Dan Smith of the Kansas Highway Patrol, who spent Wednesday reconstructing the accident.
The car left no skid marks and did not veer as it approached the crossing, which had no signals, lights or arms, but was in a clear intersection. Two double-fatality accidents have occurred there since 1978.
The engineer was cleared of any responsibility in the accident, Smith said. He was driving the southbound train 10 miles below the 55 mph speed limit.
The engineer sounded his whistle before reaching the crossing, Smith said. He put on the emergency brakes when he saw the station wagon, but the switching engine and seven freight cars required at least a quarter-mile to stop.
''There's probably nothing more of a nightmare than (an engineer) seeing a loaded car on a railroad crossing,'' said Robin Hughes, a Burlington Northern spokeswoman. ''It's always emotionally difficult. This one was catastrophic.''