Too many fatalities like this

By Russell L Berry
     This is a story about my first Friday as the School Resource Officer at Shawnee Heights High School in September of 2000.  After school, I went home to prepare for working the evening football game.  As I was returning to the school early that evening, I received a call from dispatch advising that there was a fatality wreck at SE 53rd and Paulen Road.
     I was the first officer on the scene and noticed that the victim was a young man that appeared to be a high school student.  After checking the license plate on the car, I determined that he was a Shawnee Heights High School student and also determined that his mother was a teacher at the high school. It was determined that he was on his way to the school to perform at the football game as a member of the marching band.  The victim was running late to the performance so instead of taking his normal route to school on SE 45th Street, he instead chose SE 53rd Street, which has lighter traffic that would in turn allow him to travel faster. 
     Upon investigating the accident it was determined that he was traveling between 70 and 75 mph in a 40 mph zone when he lost control of the car and crossed over the other lane of traffic.  The student entered the ditch on the opposite side of the road, broke through a fence and went approximately 75 yards into a field where he hit a tree head on.  The victim was not wearing a seat belt.  After investigating the accident, another officer and the Police Chaplin went to the mother’s home to notify her of the accident and her son’s death. 
     Not only was this a tragedy for the victim’s family, but the students and staff at the school were greatly affected.  This accident was especially difficult because not only did the kids lose a fellow student but a much loved teacher lost her child.  After this kind of tragedy the following weeks at the school are met with an eerie silence in the halls.  Extra counselors are brought in, students congregate in quiet groups and many tears are shed. 
     Unfortunately in my 28 years with the Sheriff’s office, 12 of those years as a School Resource Officer, and my two years as Chief of Police for Washburn Rural School District, I have worked too many fatality accidents like this.  This accident could have been avoided had the victim not been traveling at such an excessive rate of speed, especially on an unfamiliar road, and distracted by being late and rushing to get where he needed to be.  It is unfortunate that too many teenagers believe that they are invincible and do not pay attention to speed limits.

Russell L Berry is the Chief of Police for USD 437 – Auburn Washburn School District in Topeka


  1. Chris Bortz10/09/2013

    Thank you Mr. Berry for emphasizing the many factors that led to this horrific crash. Slow down and obey the posted speed limits. Speeding not only endangers your lives and others in your vehicle, but also puts many other drivers at risk. Wear your seat belt, every trip, every time. Your best defense in the event of a crash is wearing your seat belt.

  2. Anonymous10/09/2013

    What a tragic end to a young life. Doesn't matter if it's a low traveled road or not - the possibility of danger is always there.

    1. Anonymous10/09/2013

      What a tragedy to lose this young person when he had his whole life ahead of him. He had a loving family and many friends. Unfortunately, being in a hurry to meet a deadline and not leaving soon enough resulted in a tragic accident like you have witnessed. Many kids at Shawnee Heights hopefully, got the message to buckle up and slow down. There is no place that you have to be which is worth speeding and losing your life. Thanks for sharing this personal story and our thoughts of sympathy go the family and his friends. As parents, we can read this story and visit with our kids over and over again about safety and what can happen if you do not use good diving practices. It may seem like over reacting to them, but if it saves a life, it is worth it.