Thursday, December 18, 2014

Body found in burning vehicle off I-35

By CLINTON DICK, Herald Staff Writer | 5/7/2014

An unidentified victim was found dead in a burning vehicle Wednesday morning near the Williamsburg exit on northbound I-35 near milepost 170, law enforcement officials said at the scene. Authorities think the victim was a man, they said.

Emergency personnel responded about 10:54 a.m. to a report of a burning vehicle in a small brush area, off the right side of the interstate’s northbound lanes.

The victim was the only occupant of the vehicle, Jeff Richards, Franklin County Sheriff, said at the scene. It was unknown if the victim was trapped inside the vehicle, but the victim did not make it out, he said.

“That part is still being investigated, but it doesn’t look like anybody was trapped,” Richards said. “Whether there was a medical issue or any other circumstance — at this point we don’t know.”

The vehicle was traveling southbound across the northbound lanes on I-35 and ended up in the field, Richards said. The fire scorched the vehicle, as well as burned surrounding grass and brush before firefighters put out the blaze.

“I think, from what the witnesses talked about, it looks like it was probably the hot exhaust that caught some of the grass on fire,” Richards said. “It burned up quite a bit of grass.”

Authorities had not yet identified the victim early Wednesday afternoon. It was unclear if the vehicle had a Franklin County license plate.

“We don’t even know if it is a Kansas tag,” Richards said. “The tag is not readable.”

Richards did not know the make or model of the vehicle, he said. The vehicle sustained some damage before the fire, Richards said.

“When it was damaged, I don’t know,” he said, “but there is some damage to it.”

The Kansas Highway Patrol crash team took over the investigation from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The Williamsburg, Pomona and Lincoln-Ottawa-Harrison fire departments, along with Franklin County Emergency Medical Services, also responded to the fire.

Both northbound lanes of I-35 were closed for a brief time before the left-hand lane was reopened to traffic. Both lanes were to be shut down again later Wednesday while Kansas Highway Patrol continues its investigation, Richards said.

“It will be open until it is time to start mapping,” he said. “If the crash team does their mapping, then we’ll have to shut it down again, but then it will be opened back up. The reason it was shut down for as long as it was is because there was so much smoke crossing the road and there were a lot of emergency responders out on the highway and we didn’t want them to get hit.”

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