A five-mile stretch of U.S. 400 was closed for about 12 hours until early Saturday morning after a fiery two-vehicle accident. The two drivers died in the accident. 

A pickup and a semi-tractor trailer carrying fiberglass boats collided late Friday afternoon on U.S. 400 just west of Lyon Road, which is about two miles west of Parsons.

The accident was reported about 4:30 p.m. Friday and the Labette County Sheriff’s Department, the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Parsons Police Department, the Labette County Ambulance Service and firefighters from Parsons and Osage Township responded.

According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, a 1999 GMC pickup driven by Steven L. Bradford, 39, of Jetmore was westbound on U.S. 400 and entered the eastbound lane. Sheriff Darren Eichinger said Bradford was passing another vehicle.

A 2002 Peterbuilt semi-tractor trailer, driven by Harry B. Pierce, 53, of Torrington, Wyoming, was eastbound. His cargo was Cobalt boats. Bradford and Pierce collided nearly head-on.

KHP Public Information Officer Rick Wingate said the driver’s sides of the vehicles collided and Bradford’s pickup punctured the driver’s side fuel tank of the tractor Pierce was driving. 

The fuel caught fire and the burning fiberglass boats sent a plume of smoke high into the air. Wingate didn’t know if there was an explosion after the accident and the accident remains under investigation.

Bradford and Pierce died in the accident and were taken to Frontier Forensics in Kansas City for autopsies. Seat belt usage was unknown for both drivers. A blue heeler that was traveling with Pierce, Blue, and found alive at or near the crash site was taken to a sheriff’s deputy and then to the sheriff’s department in Oswego. Sheriff Eichinger said the dog stayed with 911 dispatchers in Oswego until the company for which Pierce drove, Carthage Marine Transport, Reeds, Missouri, arrived Saturday to pick up the dog and take it to Pierce’s widow.

Eichinger said Pierce may have opened a cab door to let the dog out. Transportation Nation Network reported that Pierce perished in an explosion of fire after the crash, but law enforcement could not confirm this.

The highway was shut down for hours while the accident was investigated. U.S. 400 traffic was diverted at U.S. 59 and Jackson Road to the west. The highway opened about 6 a.m. Saturday. The Kansas Department of Transportation had to make minor repairs to the highway because of concrete spalling (or flaking of the concrete surface caused by moisture), according to KDOT.

The KHP Critical Highway Accident Response Team responded. CHART investigates and reconstructs serious commercial vehicle accidents.

UPDATE: An autopsy report filed recently on Bradford indicated the presence of alcohol, methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system.

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