Keith Carr left the KU Kickoff at Corinth Square in his Ford Mustang in a driving rain. Minutes later and just a few blocks away, Carr would be swimming for his life.
The heavy downpour in Johnson County that night had triggered water rescues along Mission Road and at Shawnee Mission Parkway. Exiting Corinth, Carr found himself on 83rd Street, not where he wanted to be, so he turned left at Delmar to get back on course. Carr lives in Overland Park. Not familiar with the street, Carr didn’t know that a concrete drainage stream crossed the street just a half-block south.
“All I feel is a thud,” Carr said. A split second later, water came over the hood and the windshield.
The car lost traction and turned sideways. “I have no idea where my car is headed,” Carr said. “I am thinking ‘I have to get out of this car.’”
When his car turned 180 degrees, Carr decided to get out. He was able to push open the door and swim five to ten feet in water he says was about four feet deep and running hard.
“I watched my car turn back around – I saw the brake lights (disappear).” About 70 to 100 yards downstream the car came to a stop against a culvert – smashed beyond repair.
“If I had stayed in my car, I don’t know what would have happened,” he said. Carr is 48, describes himself as in good shape and a good swimmer. He was able to push the door open and since we was at the side of the current, it only took “two or three big swim strokes” to reach the edge and grab a tree branch.
In the next few minutes, he said, the depth of the water increased to five or six feet deep. “It would have been a lot harder to get out.” And in the dark, he added, “no one would have seen my car.”
Carr wasn’t the first driver to be washed down the stream. Bruce Bower has lived at 8332 Delmar for about 16 years. He said it was the third or fourth time a car was swept down the stream in heavy rains since he has lived there. In 2001, he said, a 16-year-old had to be rescued from a car in the stream.
It was Bower’s house where Carr went after pulling himself from the water. He knocked on Bower’s door and asked for help.
“His only flaw,” Bower said of Carr, was that he was unfamiliar with the area. “He was not drunk or an idiot, he was just unfamiliar with the area.”
Both Bower and Carr want to see something happen with the water crossing at Delmar and a similar one a block away on Fontana.
“What I want to see is that nobody dies there,” Bower said, “and someone will one day.”
“I don’t want next year to hear someone died over there,” Carr said, “and I didn’t do everything I could.”
The crossings at Delmar and Fontana are marked with warning signs and depth gauges near the stream. “There is no way in the dark you would ever see those signs,” Carr said. In fact, he said, in the dark and pounding rain, he did not see any signs before he hit the water and he could not tell what he was hitting. Both Carr and Bower said even in daylight the depth can be deceptive because the road takes dip at the water crossing.
“I find it hard to believe a city can leave it like this,” Carr said. “This should never happen to anyone. The last think I expected when I turned down this street was to have four to six feet of water running across the street.”
Bower said the problem has been going on for three decades. More development, he said, has pushed more water down the streams. “It’s about being human, why do we want to expose people to that risk.”
Prairie Village Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft ironically had already scheduled to make a presentation to the city council about the low water crossings before the storm hit. At the last city council meeting, Bredehoeft showed a video taken by neighbors in 2007 that depicted how much water can push down the stream. The city council in a unanimous vote directed Bredehoeft to proceed with a solution that will eliminate the low water crossings.
Coming Monday: What the city plans to do about the Fontana and Delmar crossings.
Below is the video from 2007 that was shown to the city council last week. The full potential of the stream in a heavy rain can be seen at about the 2:40 mark for about a minute: