The sole survivor of a tragic head-on collision that claimed the lives of Cecil Gill Jr., 84, and Dwayne J. Scott, 20, this past week has been stranded in Marion — unable to retrieve anything but his medication from the cab of the semi he was driving as authorities investigate.
Worse still, Kevin Thompson, 57, also faces a possible $35,000 bill for towing and recovery. And his $65,000 cargo of nut butter is in danger of spoiling.
The Green Bay, Wisconsin, native is being helped by Marion Christian Church until he is able to retrieve is belongings.
Pastor Carl Helm said he was contacted by St. Luke Hospital when Thompson was released Thursday, and the church is paying for Thompson’s lodging and food. Helm also took Thompson to St. Luke Auxiliary thrift store to get clothing.
Thompson said Auto House told him the $35,000 bill had to be paid before he could get his things and that the accident is still under investigation by the Kansas Highway Patrol.
KHP’s Lt. Eric Rust affirmed the accident is being investigated by the agency’s critical highway accident reconstruction team because both occupants of the minivan died.
Cecil Gill Jr., 84, Hazel Crest, Illinois, was driving a 2005 Dodge Caravan westbound on US-50 when he attempted to pass a grain truck, apparently without seeing Thompson’s oncoming semi when he pulled into the left lane.
Gill then veered toward the left shoulder of the road, but the vehicle collided head-on with the semi. He was taken to Via Christi - St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, where he died.
Dwayne J. Scott, 20, St. Louis, a passenger in the Dodge, died at the scene and was taken to Yazel-Megli-Zeiner Funeral Home. From there he was taken to Frontier Forensics in Kansas City.
Frontier Forensics said they cannot release information about Scott’s family.
The Marion County Record was unable to reach members of Gill’s and Scott’s families.
Chris Unruh, owner of Auto House, said he could release Thompson’s medication, but not the rest of his possessions until KHP releases its hold on the truck.
“As soon as they call us and tell us the hold is released, he can come and get his stuff and go on his way,” Unruh said.
Unruh said he doesn’t expect Thompson to hand over the money before retrieving his possessions.
“This is an insurance situation,” Unruh said. “Since his insurance is probably going to get involved, it will probably end up at a salvage yard in Wichita where people will bid on it.”
As for the amount of Auto House’s charge, Unruh said the $35,000 is a recovery fee, not a towing fee.
“We were on the scene for nine hours,” Unruh said. “We had four trucks and five drivers on the scene. The Highway Patrol had their investigation team on site.”
Unruh said his employees had to use a chain saw to cut trees before they could remove the truck, and that equipment used by the company is very expensive.
Unruh said Auto House has to make the removal worth their while.
“A lot of this time is outside of our control,” Unruh said. “We still have to charge for equipment that is sitting there that can’t be used for anything else.
Besides the towing bill, Auto House is charging $115 per day for storage of the truck.
Four other towing companies in the region said a $35,000 charge was high. One said his company had to pick up spilled cargo by hand at the scene of a wreck and load it into one of their own trailers to tow away along with the truck, and that charge was $20,000.
Thompson’s experience still has him shook up.
“Six more feet would have been the end of me because there was a 12-foot ravine,” he said.
Gill said he hasn’t been able to see his truck since he jumped down from the cab and walked away from it the evening of the wreck. The trailer is loaded with about $65,000 worth of nut butter and needs to be kept cool, he said.
He does not know if there is enough fuel left in the tank to allow the refrigerator unit to keep the butter cool.