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Trailer fire torches cars on US-50

Mercedes escapes unscathed while domestic brands burn

News editor

A car transport trailer caught fire Sunday on US-50 west of Peabody, destroying four vehicles and snarling traffic for hours, while the semi cab and driver disappeared from the scene.

The westbound trailer was on the north side of the highway in the passing lane section near the county line, cars ablaze, when sergeant Mike Ottensmeier described part of the scene to a dispatcher as he arrived at about 3:14 p.m.

“I’ve got four cars and a car trailer; the tractor itself has been disconnected and doesn’t appear to be damaged,” he said.

About 10 minutes later, in addition to a blazing fire, he had a mystery on his hands.

“Where’d that semi go?” Ottensmeier radioed. “It’s missing the tractor. The tractor that was pulling this has disappeared.”

After alerting Harvey County sheriff’s officers to the disappearance, Ottensmeier asked the dispatcher to check the vehicle identification number of a 2013 Mercedes that was the only vehicle that was removed from the trailer before the others were engulfed.

“I thought, ‘That’s kind of odd,’” he said. “Then I started thinking this was a load of stolen cars. I ran some ID numbers and everything was on the up-and-up.”

A Harvey County sheriff’s officer found the driver and tractor a short time later, parked on the highway between Walton and Newton, Ottensmeier said.

“A firefighter told him he needed to move; the driver drove off,” he said.

Traffic was completely shut down for about a half hour as firefighters from Peabody and Walton worked to extinguish the hazardous fire.

“We had tires popping, we had gasoline in cars sitting on the trailer, and the trailer got so hot it was tilting to one side,” Ottensmeier said.

Once the fire was out and equipment moved, one lane was reopened to traffic. Kansas Department of Transportation personnel from Marion arrived to regulate traffic until the highway was fully re-opened about 8 p.m.

A Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Silverado, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Chevrolet SS were either total losses or suffered burn damage, Ottensmeier said.

“We had three other cars on the truck part that weren’t damaged at all because the driver disconnected the trailer before the fire got to the cab system,” he said.

A 60-foot stretch of asphalt also was damaged by the blaze, which Ottensmeier said started when a trailer axle overheated and caught fire.

The truck driver was cited for not having a current medical certificate.

Last modified Oct. 28, 2015

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