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Passersby rescue kids in fiery fatality

Staff writer

Two children injured in an accident that killed three others on US-56 are home from the hospital after they were pulled from the wreck by several local heroes.

Aspyn J. Goldsberry, 5, and 3-year-old Jensen D. Tomkinson, both of Salina, were passengers in 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan driven by Nathan D. Puett, 30, when he crossed the center line and crashed head-on into a westbound 2000 Ford F-150 driven by James L. Potter, 70, of Emporia.

The Ford F-150 caught fire in the crash. Both drivers and Potter’s passenger, Jody L. Potter, 61, also of Emporia, were killed at the scene.

Three or four who saw the accident rescued the children from the Dodge before first responders arrived, Hillsboro fire chief Ben Steketee said.

“There was a sense of urgency because the other vehicle had two victims in it — and it was on fire,” he said. “So they wanted to get the children out before it also caught on fire.”

The children were deemed “Code Red” by paramedics — with injuries thought to be serious.

“I think the seriousess of that was due to the serious of the accident,” said Steketee, who said the children had been fastened in car seats.

“They were breathing, but they weren’t crying and that’s a scary thing,” Steketee said. “It’s hard to tell with kids.”

Emergency services director Travis Parmley requested a Life Flight, then later canceled it and had the children driven to Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, by Marion ambulance.

Steketee said that it often is faster to drive an accident victim to the hospital than wait for a flight. And there are paramedics on ambulances, now.

“One of the reasons LifeFlight usually has been requested is because paramedics weren’t available,” he said. “That’s why it’s used less.”

Seven Kansas Highway Patrol troopers responded to the crash along with five Marion sheriff’s deputies, two Marion police officers and nine Hillsboro firefighters.

Steketee asked Marion firefighers for help when the burning truck started a grass fire.

“Our second brush truck was in the shop for maintenance. That’s why we called for Marion,” he said.

Marion firefighters went to work on a larger grass fire while Hillsboro firefighter Todd Helmer put out a smaller blaze with a leaf blower.

Steketee could not speculate what might have caused the truck fire.

Hillsboro firefighters extracted deceased victims from the vehicles when the blaze was put out.

KHP Technical trooper Ben Gardner, said putting together possible causes of the crash would take some time.

“It’s really going to be challenging,” he said. “We don’t have anyone to talk to who can really tell us what took place.”

The department is backlogged, so he expected investigations into the crash could take several months.

Susan Tomkinson, the children’s grandmother, has organized a fundraising effort on their behalf and that of her daughter Lauren Tompkinson.

Aspyn will need surgery on her arm and wounds from her seat belt. Jensen is sore but healing nicely, but they are both healing up at home.

Those who want to help can donate or leave messages of support on a GoFundMe page for Lauren, Aspyn and Jensen.

Last modified March 4, 2021

 

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