Shawnee Mission South community mourns grad Sam Caldwell after death in car accident

Sam Caldwell

Sam Caldwell was a 2019 graduate of SM South High School. His older brother, Jake, is a teacher at the school. Photo courtesy @SMRaidersHoops Twitter account.

The Kansas Highway Patrol has identified Sam Caldwell, 20, of Overland Park as one of two people killed in a head-on collision on Interstate 35 near Ottawa, Kan., early Saturday.

The other person killed was identified as Kaitlen Riley, 19, of Concordia, Kan.

The highway patrol’s crash report says Caldwell’s 2011 Jeep Patriot was driving southbound in the northbound lanes of I-35 just east of Ottawa when it struck a Volkswagen Beetle driven by Riley.

‘Heartbroken’ SM South community

Caldwell was a 2019 graduate of Shawnee Mission South High School.

Principal Todd Dain emailed staff and families Saturday to inform them of Caldwell’s death. Caldwell’s older brother Jake is a teacher and coach at the school.

“As you can imagine, it has been an extremely difficult time for the Caldwell family,” Dain wrote. “As many of our current students knew Sam, we wanted to make you were aware of what happened.”

The email went on to say that school and district staff would be available for anyone who needed help processing their emotions.

“Death is always difficult to handle, but particularly so when someone so young dies. It will be important to recognize that all of us will need time to process what has happened, and to express our feelings. Your child may struggle to make sense of this death. Please encourage your child to express their feelings and be there to talk with them about what has happened,” Dain wrote.

Two high school athletes

Caldwell played for the SM South boys basketball team when he attended the school and was on the team that advanced to the Kansas 6A state tournament two years ago.

SM South’s basketball program tweeted Saturday that they were “heartbroken, shocked and saddened” by Caldwell’s death.

According to her Facebook account, Kaitlen Riley graduated from Concordia High School last year.

She played for the school’s tennis team, which put up a Facebook post Saturday asking for pictures of Riley.

One commenter wrote, “Kaitlen was such a sweetheart and always had a smile.”

In its crash report, the highway patrol said it was “unknown” why Caldwell’s Jeep was driving the wrong direction on the highway.

The incident occurred just after midnight on Saturday, Jan. 30, two-and-a-half miles east of Ottawa.