Deadly intersection: Lives changed following accidents

Jim McGuire of Hesston tends to Taylour Jantz's metal cross at East First Street and East Lake Road in Harvey County like he's been doing for the last several years. Jantz, whom McGuire knew, was killed at the age of 7 at that interection. Wendy Nugent/HC Now

By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now

NEWTON—Three lives became intertwined at a tragic accident scene years apart—one little girl who was killed, a woman left paralyzed and a man who tends a metal cross.

Taylour Jantz loved to play soccer, play with her sister and read.

Just a few weeks short of her eighth birthday, she was killed in a vehicle accident March 11, 2001, at East First and East Lake Road in rural Harvey County.

“We’ll always cherish Taylour’s life and all those happy days,” is written on the little girl’s Internet memory page. “We’ll miss her smile, her voice, her song and all her winning ways.”

Just after the wreck happened, Newton Medical Center Registered Nurse Traci Gronau happened to drive upon the scene and stayed to comfort another little girl involved in the accident, Taylour’s sister.

Taylour Jantz was killed at the intersection of East First and East Lake Road in rural Newton. Contributed photo

In a twist of fate, Gronau was left paralyzed from an accident on July 22, 2020, at the exact same spot and in the exact same kind of accident—someone driving east over the hill on East First as Gronau pulled right from East Lake Road going west on First. Her vehicle came to rest in the same ditch as Taylour’s dad’s vehicle.

People involved in these accidents and their loved ones believe this intersection is dangerous, and they’d like to see something to correct that. Jim McGuire of Hesston, who tends the area where the cross for Taylour is near the intersection and who knew Taylour, pointed out the line of trees on the northeast corner of that intersection that blocks the sight of vehicles pulling out from East Lake Road. Gronau said there’s also a hill for the East First drivers going west that can cause a delay in response time if a vehicle pulls onto First in the same lane.

“When the accident happened, I looked over and the semi was right there,” Gronau said. “I knew I was going to get hurt. I just turned my head and it dragged me over by the cross.”

She said she wasn’t scared during the accident and her nurse training kicked in.

“I’m a nurse and I assessed myself,” she said. “I knew my neck was hurt and knew I was paralyzed. I don’t know—maybe she was a little guardian angel.”

Gronau felt protected by the little girl.

“Where it severed the spinal column, an inch higher and I wouldn’t have made it,” Gronau said.

She said that line of trees and hill keeps from giving people time to react if another vehicle pops over the hill.

“You can’t always see there very far and then there’s that tree row,” she said. “As far as for me, I feel the accident was more my fault, but I feel there’s not enough reaction time for either to react.”

Gronau said people have told her it didn’t look like the truck braked, but she thinks the driver didn’t have time.

Traci Gronau, here pictured with her daughters, was left paralyzed after her accident at East Lake Road and East First Street in rural Newton. Contributed photo

Because of the accident, Gronau is paralyzed from the chest line down.

“I can move both arms, but not always. I can grab things,” she said, adding her right arm works better than her left arm, as she can only raise her left.

“I can’t do anything by myself,” she said. “I gotta have help.”

Gronau was on her way to work at Newton Medical Center from East Lake Park, where she and her husband lived, as they retired to the lake, although Gronau still worked.

 

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In another twist of fate, as McGuire tended the cross area, he found Gronau’s RN badge and keys by the cross.

“I’m sure when they transferred me from the car to the gurney, it probably fell off there,” Gronau said about her badge.

During the 2001 accident where Gronau stopped, she said she was the second person on the scene. A man she knew from high school, now retired Newton Fire/EMS Chief Mark Willis, was doing CPR on the girl who passed.

“The dad was in the ditch crying,” Gronau said. “I stopped for the little girl [who didn’t pass away].”

Mark’s wife, Cathy, also was there, tending to the girl, but she needed to go back and be with her own kids, who were in their vehicle at the scene.

Gronau said she went to high school with the Willises and that the surviving sister kept trying to give her sister her barrette.

“I just kinda sat with her,” Gronau said.

 

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McGuire started tending to the accident marker cross about five years ago, he said.

He picks up trash and mows.

“When I was out there mowing July 25, I found a ring of keys, her Newton Medical Center keys and her badge in the grass,” McGuire said.

When he got home, he searched the internet and came up with a Go Fund Me page for Gronau. He then contacted the person in charge of the Go Fund Me page and that person stopped by McGuire’s place of employment the following Monday and he gave the keys and badge to her, so she could get them to Gronau.

Initially, the accident marker cross was wooden, but Hesston Welding made a white metal cross and wouldn’t charge for it, McGuire said.

“It was about ready to fall over, actually,” McGuire said about the old wooden cross.

McGuire said he knew Taylour and her sister because his wife used to babysit them in the early mornings, while they lived in Burns.

“They were nice kids,” he said. “They all got along great.”

Jim McGuire of Hesston picks up trash along East First Street in rural Newton at the site of the vehicle accidents. Wendy Nugent/Harvey County Now

Since the cross was out there and the weeds were growing up, McGuire decided to take care of the small area, since he knew Taylour.

“The mother and folks greatly appreciate it,” McGuire said, adding he changes out the flowers and gets it cleaned for Memorial Day.

It’s therapy for him in a way.

“For me, personally, it’s therapeutic pushing the mower back and forth,” he said, adding drivers going by wave to him and some people stop and ask if it’s for a relative of his.

One man asked him why he was mowing in the middle of nowhere, so he told him.

In 2019, McGuire was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but he had started having rigidity two years prior. He said balance issues are part of the disease and now it’s harder for him to walk in the ditch. It would be nice if someone else could take care of it, he said.

In addition to therapy, McGuire finds other things out in the country, like car parts.

“There’s been brake lights, tail lights, just pieces of cars leftover from being hit,” he said. “I’m amazed at all the trash under the grass there.”

For safety’s sake, McGuire wishes the line of evergreens was removed.

“That’s one reason I mow down to the corner, just so people can see,” he said. “I do it for the honor of the little girl and the parents.”