(Walton, Kansas – October 8, 2012)
The tragic Harvey County, KS collision between a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train and a 2000 Dodge Intrepid at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Northeast 48th Street and BNSF railroad tracks early Saturday afternoon at about 12:15 P.M. has resulted in the death of the mother, serious injuries to the father, and a concussion to an uncle of an eight-month-old infant.
When rescuers arrived at the scene of the tragedy, great concern was shown and frantic searching was conducted due to a baby bottle and blankets being found inside the wreckage of the car, driven by Taylor Sowell, 19, of Newton, KS, but responders eventually learned that Taylor’s infant daughter, Laken Sowell, had been left at a baby sitter’s. Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton expressed extreme concern because “we couldn’t see a baby anywhere,” and that “We searched everywhere,” he told Wichita Eagle Staff Writer Rick Plumlee.
The baby’s mother was pronounced dead at the scene from head injuries while the husband and father, Dylan Sowell, 20, was flown to Wichita’s Wesley Medical Center, where he was still listed as being in fair condition Monday from head injuries. Kyle Malek, 17, of Sedgwick, KS was treated at Wesley for a concussion, but had since been released. Family members said that Taylor and Dylan had been married only two months ago.
Taylor and her two passengers were headed for the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and NE 48th when she attempted to cross the elevated, unprotected crossing of BNSF double-tracked main line that accommodates an average of 40 trains daily at a top speed of 79 mph. The only traffic control devices consist of a pair of standard, passive railroad crossbuck signs, lacking any gates or lights.
“The only warning is if the train blows the whistle,” said Sheriff Walton, adding that he did not know if the train crew blew the locomotive’s whistle before it struck Sowell’s car.
Sedgwick Chief of Police Ray Huff knew the family well, as Taylor Sowell’s and Kyle Malek’s grandfather had been a predecessor of his as Police Chief at Sedgwick, KS. “She was a really sweet person, bubbly and happy,” lamented Chief Huff. “She was always a pleasure to be around.”
Chief Huff said that the citizens of Sedgwick, where Taylor had been raised and graduated high school, were in the process of setting up two benefits and a fund to help with medical and funeral expenses. The benefits will be held Saturday and Sunday, with a concert at the Innovo Christian Fellowship in Wichita, KS Saturday beginning at 7:00 P.M. and a benefit dinner and fundraiser scheduled for Sunday at 5:00 P.M. at the Sedgwick Elementary School. Meanwhile, the Taylor Malek Sowell Memorial Fund has been set up at Legacy Bank locations across the region.
”It (the tragedy) really crushed this town, big time,” said event organizer T.J. Wells-Lee. “Sedgwick hasn’t had a tragedy like this for a long time.”
Wells-Lee added that the concert venue provided “a good forum for raising money for this girl because from what I understand, the family just doesn’t have much.”
The young mother had been studying nursing at Bethel College in North Newton, KS.