Friday, July 25, 2014

Report: Officer fired shots at burning vehicle in unsuccessful attempt to free man inside; victim identified

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/8/2014

A man who died in a burning vehicle Wednesday morning on I-35 near the Williamsburg exit in Franklin County has been identified as Michael Robert Mcauliffe, 48, of Iowa, the Kansas Highway Patrol said in a news release at 5:15 p.m. today. 

A 2007 Lexus sport utility vehicle driven by Mcauliffe was traveling southbound on I-35 when it crossed the median, went into the northbound lanes and into the east ditch at milepost 169, one mile south of the Williamsbug exit, according to the highway patrol. 

The Lexus continued across the ditch and through a field, striking a tree and damaging the front of the vehicle. The Lexus, at times driving forward, then backwards in the field, got stuck on another tree and a barbed wire fence, the highway patrol said.

Two witnesses stopped to render aid, approaching the vehicle. The driver was attempting to free the vehicle, rocking it back and forth, the patrol said. Witnesses flagged down a marked patrol vehicle from the Department of Homeland Security.

The Homeland Security officer approached the Lexus SUV, with the driver continuing his attempts to free the vehicle, the highway patrol said. The officer made repeated requests for the driver to exit the vehicle. 

The officer attempted to open the door, but it was locked, the patrol said. He then made an unsuccessful attempt to break the window. Eventually the vehicle caught fire, at which point the Homeland Security officer fired two shots, attempting to get into the vehicle to rescue the driver. The attempt failed to shatter the window, and the officer was unable to gain access to the driver, the highway patrol said. 

A truck driver also had stopped at the scene and made an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the fire. 

Mcauliffe, who did not exit the vehicle, died at the scene as a result of the fire, according to the highway patrol.

The Homeland Security officer was transported to an area hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, which he suffered during his attempts to rescue the driver, the patrol said. The Highway Patrol did not identify the officer.

The Kansas Highway Patrol continues to investigate the crash. Autopsy results are pending as part of the investigation, which will determine if the driver possibly had a medical issue or was impaired, the highway patrol said.

Franklin County emergency personnel responded about 10:54 a.m. Wednesday 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. 

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 Wednesday morning before the left-hand lane was reopened to traffic.

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