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2 Southwest Baptist students among 10 killed in crash

BOLIVAR, Mo. (BP)–Two Southwest Baptist University students were among 10 people killed Jan. 23 in a fiery, 24-vehicle, chain reaction crash on Interstate 29 north of Kansas City, Mo., SBU President C. Pat Taylor reported.

Sara Nicole McGaha, 18, a sophomore psychology major from Papillion, Neb., and Jay C. Wetzel, 19, a freshman sports management major from New Salem, N.D., were traveling back to school together when their car was involved in the multi-vehicle crash. They were scheduled to begin classes at SBU Jan. 24.

McGaha and Wetzel were college sweethearts and were returning home from a long weekend where they visited each other’s families.

The crash was one of 50 accidents involving nearly 100 vehicles on an icy stretch of Interstate 29 between Kansas City International Airport and St. Joseph, Mo. According to police, five tractor-trailers and 19 other vehicles were involved in the crash that killed McGaha and Wetzel. One of the trucks caught fire and a dozen vehicles were engulfed in flames. Six of the dead were burned, authorities confirmed.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation; however, police said visibility on the interstate was near zero.

Their deaths were announced to the SBU family during a Jan. 24 chapel service. The announcement shocked the 1,700 students and faculty.

“The SBU family was saddened as we learned of the tragic death of two of our students. Words cannot express our pain in the loss of Sara and Jay,” Taylor said. “These two young people were good students and active in school activities. It will be very difficult to begin the spring semester.”

McGaha, a 1999 graduate of Papillion-LaVista High School, was the daughter of John and Peggy McGaha. She was a member of the concert choir at SBU.

“Sara was a very good student and was well-liked by other members of the choir. She sang alto and faithfully attended all practices and performances,” said Gregory Parker, director of the choir and an instructor of music at SBU. “She will be greatly missed by all of us in the choir.”

Wetzel, a 1999 graduate of Glen Ullin High School, was the son of Clyde and Lois Wetzel of New Salem, N.D. He was a member of the SBU football team where he played strong safety. He was a red shirt this season and played on the practice squad.

In high school, Wetzel was a linebacker and earned all-league honors during his junior and senior years. He won the team’s hustle award for two consecutive seasons and was his team’s most valuable player during his senior year.

“Jay was one of the finest young men I’ve ever been associated with. His enthusiasm, spiritual commitment and overall positive outlook on life will impact our football program for many years to come,” said Dennis Roland, the university’s athletic director and head football coach. “He was a first-class individual who epitomized the definition of character.”

Wetzel, a Southern Baptist, was a member of Capital Heights Baptist Church in Bismark. Church leaders said he was extremely active in both church and youth events.

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