Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Accident may cause BLHS junior to lose foot

February 21, 2007

At Basehor-Linwood High School, students are used to hearing a jingle as junior Katelynn Witt walks through the school hallways wearing her letter jacket covered with dangling medals.

But a traffic accident the night of Feb. 14 has kept the 16-year-old Katelynn out of school. And it will be awhile before she returns. Katelynn's left foot was severely damaged in the crash. And as of Tuesday, her father, Curtis Witt, said he still didn't know if Katelynn's foot could be saved.

"It's a quality-of-life deal that's the issue we have to face," Witt said, his voice cracking. "At least we still have our girl."

The three-car accident claimed the life of 19-year-old Amanda Bixby, Tonganoxie, who was driving home from work in her Ford Taurus. Amanda's funeral was Monday in Tonganoxie.

Katelynn, an athlete who excelled in cross country, basketball and track, was one of five people in a Dodge Durango returning home after watching a freshman boys basketball game at BLHS.

Also in the car were the driver, Bill Nichols, and his wife Dawn Nichols, Basehor. In the backseat, the Nichols' son, Juston, 15, sat between Katelynn and her 14-year-old sister, Shelby.

According to the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office, as the two vehicles approached the intersection,

Ricardo De-Leon Flores, 20, Lansing, the driver of a northbound Toyota 4Runner, failed to yield at the stop sign on 158th Street. His vehicle struck the Durango and then the Taurus.

Flores has been cited for failure to yield and no driver's license. Leavenworth County Attorney Frank Kohl said Wednesday his office wouldn't file vehicular homicide charges against Flores because the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that simply committing a traffic infraction in and of itself is not grounds for such a charge.

The initial impact on the Durango struck the side where Katlynn was sitting, Witt said.

"She got pinned in the door," Witt said. "Her foot got lodged. It's at the point where we don't know whether they're going to be able to save the foot and have it be workable or not."

Katelynn is at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., where she's undergone four surgical procedures so far, and more may be in store, her father said.

Witt said everyone in the Durango was injured in the crash. He said Dawn Nichols also had been hospitalized and treated for head injuries.

He credited Juston, who was seated between his daughters, with saving them from further injury.

"He grabbed their heads and pulled them toward his lap and saved them," Witt said.

In the collision, Witt said, the vehicle's rearview mirror came off the windshield and struck Juston's forehead, causing a wound that required stitches.

As soon as she could, Shelby called her parents, who live less than a mile from where the crash occurred.

Witt said when he and his wife, Alicia, arrived, the Durango and Taurus were in the ditch about 125 yards from the intersection, and the Toyota 4Runner was in the roadway about 20 yards west of the intersection.

Meanwhile, members of the Witt family is coping as best as they can. He said the support shown by the Basehor community has helped.

"We've just been overwhelmed with visitors and support from the school, the principal the vice principal, the athletic director and all of the coaches have been up here numerous times," Witt said.

While he said Katelynn's spirits are good, there's no easy way to bounce back from something like this.

By the end of next week, he said, they'll know whether Katelynn will be able to keep her foot.

Yet even while they're struggling with the aftereffects of the collision, they know it could have been worse. Witt said he wanted to attend Amanda's funeral, but their own life has been too complicated this past week. He said he hadn't known Amanda or her parents, Dennis and Denise Bixby, but realized they had much in common.

"Our deepest sympathies go out to them," Witt said. "This is just a tragic thing that has torn up three families."

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