Police think a serious medical condition suffered by a designated driver set the stage for the crash that killed four people and critically injured a fifth Saturday night in east Wichita, Kan.
The fiery crash killed Andrew Montgomery, Jessica Metzger, Sara Smith and Victoria Daugherty, Lt. Joe Schroeder said Monday. A fourth passenger, a 34-year-old woman, was thrown from the Ford Escape upon impact and suffered multiple injuries but is still alive.
“The actions of the vehicle were called into question, as speed is considered a major contributing factor to the severity of the crash,” Schroeder said. “We do believe the driver suffered a major medical condition” and lost consciousness as he was driving.
Montgomery, 39, was hired through Triple B’s Express as a designated driver by the four friends on Saturday, Schroeder said. Witnesses reported he was driving west on Kellogg at between 70 and 80 mph prior to exiting at Oliver.
The Escape had its right turn signal on but showed no signs of slowing, a witness later told police. Just before it would have struck a car stopped at a red light, the Escape swerved hard to the left and hit a short median separating exit lanes from a U-turn lane at Oliver, Schroeder said.
The median vaulted the Escape into the air before it slammed into a retaining wall shielding pedestrians from vehicles, Schroeder said. The vehicle then caught on fire.
The four deceased “were dead upon impact,” Schroeder said, and did not die in the resulting fire.
Based on witness accounts, he said, investigators think Montgomery’s medical episode rendered him unable to control the Escape and may have even caused him to press down on the gas pedal, accelerating the vehicle.
Metzger, 26, who was in the Air Force and was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, was seated in the front passenger seat and — along with the 34-year-old survivor — tried to gain control of the speeding vehicle, Schroeder said. Investigators surmise they were the ones who swerved the Escape left at the last moment to avoid hitting the vehicle stopped at the red light.
“The actions of those two passengers probably saved the life of the innocent bystander” stopped at the light, Schroeder said.
The survivor was sitting in the back and likely unbuckled her seat belt to try to help bring the vehicle under control, he said. Ironically, that may have saved her life. The impact ejected her from the vehicle. She was pulled away from the burning vehicle by a bystander and a police officer.
She is in critical condition at Wesley Medical Center with numerous serious injuries, Schroeder said.
Investigators are awaiting toxicology results to see whether Montgomery was under the influence of anything at the time of the crash, Schroeder said, but “there is no indication that alcohol was a factor in this collision.” Police are also awaiting an autopsy to confirm whether Montgomery suffered a medical episode.
Smith, 23, and Daugherty, 27, were sitting in the backseat and had their seat belts on, Schroeder said.
The quartet had gone on a scavenger hunt earlier in the day Saturday and hired Montgomery to take them home, said Lindsey Burnison, Daugherty’s best friend.
“It’s unbelievable,” Burnison said of the crash. “She was just the most outgoing person. ... She was always trying to put everyone in a good mood.”
Daugherty had a 5-year-old daughter, Burnison said. “She was a wonderful mother,” she said.
Metzger was an airman first class with the 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said Stefan Bocchino, chief of public affairs at McConnell. For just over a month, she was also a bartender at Our Fantasy Complex on South Hillside.
In a tribute to Metzger on its Facebook Page, the bar posted: “She was a wonderful gal to be around, always had an upbeat personality, a smile to melt your heart, a positive can-do energy, and a truly kind person that will be terribly terribly missed by her many friends, family and us.”
Smith was studying at Wichita State University to be a dental hygienist, said Joe Kleinsasser, a spokesman for the university.
She lost her father, Randy, to cancer on March 13. The family is now planning a joint funeral and has asked for donations to help cover the expenses.
“Sara was a beautiful free spririt and the life of our family,” said a post on the site Gofundme.com. “Sara was such a loving wonderful person, she would do anything for anyone, and was the glue of the family during tough times.”
Daugherty was the office manager for Farha Roofing.
“She was very outgoing — a real hard worker,” Ted Farha, chief executive officer of Farha Construction, which includes the roofing operation.
Daugherty ran the day-to-day operations, he said, making sure the project managers had the supplies they needed on time.
“She kept things moving,” Farha said. “She was really good at what she did.”
Efforts to reach management at Triple B’s Express were unsuccessful.
The crash raised the number of traffic deaths in Wichita this year to 10 in seven crashes, Schroeder said. That compares to six in five crashes through the same time in 2013.