Wreck Claims 5 west of Newton

In Harvey County’s deadliest accident in decades, a Hutchinson family, their 15-year-old niece and a Wichita man were killed Saturday in a two-vehicle crash on U.S. 50 west of Newton.  Weather may have been to blame for the wreck that happened about 2:45 p.m. between West Road and Hoover, the Highway Patrol said.  Tiffany Mathews, 15, of Mulvane and her uncle and aunt, Gerald D. Fisher, 37, and Pamela Fisher, 43, both of Hutchinson, were pronounced dead at the scene. The Fishers’ 5-year-old son, Jarod, who was taken to Wesley Medical Center by Newton ambulance, died of head injuries just before midnight Saturday.  Also killed in the wreck was John Murray Jr., 58, of  Wichita, who was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, Jonita C. Murray, 59, the wreck’s only survivor, was taken to Wesley Medical Center by helicopter and is in critical but stable condition today in the hospital’s surgical intensive care unit.  She had several broken bones, including two broken legs and two broken wrists, and chest injuries. “It is a frustrating feeling to get to a scene like that and not being able to do anything for them,” said Mark Willis, Newton fire/EMS deputy chief, one of the first rescue workers to arrive at the accident. Kansas Highway Patrol 2nd Lt. Chip Westfall said a brief storm that moved through the Newton area caused the 1989 black Ford pickup truck that Gerald Fisher was driving to hydroplane and cross the center line sideways.  Law enforcement authorities said years of traffic have left grooves on the highway that tend to fill with water during storms. The Highway Patrol said neither truck was exceeding the 65 mph speed limit.  The Murrays’ vehicle, a 1998 red Ford truck which was headed in the opposite direction on U.S. 50, struck the passenger side of Fisher’s truck. Both pickups are extended-cab F-150s.  After Jarod Fisher and Jonita Murray were taken to the hospital, it took rescue workers about two hours to free the remaining victims from the mangled wreckage.  It was unclear whether Jarod Fisher was thrown from the vehicle, Westfall said. A child safety seat remained strapped in the Fishers’ pickup.  When paramedics arrived, a passer-by was performing CPR on the child. “It was just a devastating scene,” Willis said. Relatives of the Fishers said the family was driving to Newton Saturday afternoon to see a dying relative, Pat Boyd, when the accident occurred. Boyd, Tiffany’s grandmother, died at her Newton home about half an hour after the accident. ”All in one day … it’s a little bit too much,” Stacey Mathews, Tiffany’s cousin, said Sunday. ”It’s kind of hard.” Randall Green, Tiffany’s stepfather, said relatives became concerned when the truck did not arrive in Newton when expected, so he drove west on U.S. 50 with another of Tiffany’s uncles to see if something had happened. They came across the accident scene about two miles west of town.  ”It was my worst nightmare,” Green said. Local law enforcement officials and rescue workers said this was the worst accident they have seen in Harvey County. “To our knowledge, we’ve never had four or more dead on the scene from an accident of any sort,” Willis said. There have been several vehicle accidents that have killed three people in Harvey County, including one last year that claimed the life of a woman and two young girls near Walton. (By Chris Strunk for the Newton Kansan, Newton Kansas.  June 10, 2002).

John Murray Jr

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