Doniphan County wrestles with tragic death

By Kristin Hoppa
St. Joseph News Press – November 23, 2015

The tragic accident that claimed the life of an 8-year-old driver in an unusual traffic crash Sunday continued to radiate through the Northeast Kansas region Monday.

Cadence Orcutt, of Troy, Kansas, was killed after she drove a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt west along the gravel 175th Road around 3:30 p.m., troopers with the Kansas State Highway Patrol said.

While the young driver reportedly had permission from her passenger and grandfather, Dennis Meers, 56, of St. Joseph, to drive along the rural roadway, about two miles west of Wathena, Kansas, Cadence lost control of the vehicle. The car traveled off the left side of the roadway, overturned and landed in a shallow creek.

One of the first responders on scene, Deputy Raymond Hall with the Doniphan County Sheriff’s Department said the initial responder found the vehicle flipped onto its top, with the young girl pinned underneath. The preliminary investigation revealed that the young driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

“This is very unfortunate, because there are rules and laws that are set forth by the Legislature that we try to enforce the best we can and sometimes people don’t follow those,” Mr. Hall said. “There are consequences that can result in tickets, jail time and unfortunately a very important law wasn’t followed and in this particular incident, it cost an 8-year-old girl her life.”

Doniphan County Sheriff’s Department investigators partnered with the Kansas Highway Patrol, which began to act as the lead agency in the investigation. Master Trooper Adam Simon previously told the News-Press that Mr. Meers gave his granddaughter permission to drive the vehicle as he sat as he said in the passenger’s seat.

“She was one of the most well-respected, outstanding, and popular students in her grade,” said Troy Public School District Superintendent and Elementary School Principal Brain Harris. “Anytime you lose a student or staff member, it becomes a very difficult time for everyone.”

Cadence attended third grade at the Troy Public School District and had several friends. Described as a small, close-knit school district, regional school districts, including Riverside School District, sent additional counselors to aid in helping students grieve.

“We will continue to monitor students and be here if they need help,” Mr. Harris said. “It is just really tough for a lot of our younger students who are having to understand this tragic situation.”

As investigators continued to work the scene into Sunday evening, Mr. Hall said family members arrived at the loose-gravel road. He said the circumstances around the accident remain under investigation, but the Northeast Kansas community was rattled.

“I think, especially in a tragedy like this, people are real quick to judge others and I’m no angel, because we’ve all made bad choices and bad mistakes,” Mr. Hall said. “This bad choice and mistake that was seemingly allowed to happen cost somebody and a family very dearly.”

Officers believed Mr. Meers allowed the young girl to take the wheel shortly after the blacktop ended and the road turned to a gravel surface. Down a small hill and a short distance away was where the girl traveled off the roadway.

Mr. Meers was transported to Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph for treatment after the crash. Authorities continued to collect evidence before reports will be submitted to Doniphan County Prosecuting Attorney Charles Baskins for consideration of charges.

“This was a very, very bad tragedy that didn’t need to happen and unfortunately did,” Mr. Hall said.

Troopers reported that Mr. Meers was outside the vehicle when authorities arrived on scene and were not sure if he was wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident. Troopers stated that Cadence was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash.

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