KIT CARSON, Colo. (CBS4) -Six people died Thursday morning in a van crash on Colorado's Eastern Plains, including a Cheyenne County Sheriff's deputy.
The crash happened at about 7:30 a.m. in a construction zone on U.S. 287, about two and a half miles south of the town of Kit Carson. That town is about 130 miles southeast of Denver. At noon officers with the Colorado State Patrol were still on the scene. A 1999 Dodge Ram 3500 van and a 2001 Peterbilt tractor-trailer truck were involved.
State troopers said the semi was stopped in traffic southbound on 287 when the van crashed into the rear of the cattle trailer.
The road where the accident happened reopened at about 2:30 p.m., seven hours after the collision occurred.
"Howard is a very cautious driver, as a county deputy, he's been involved in several construction accidents and he's well aware of what can happen," said family friend Karen Nordquist.
The driver of the van, Howard Mitchell, was killed, along with five children in the vehicle, ranging in age from 4 to 17 years old. Mitchell, 57, is a Cheyenne County Sheriff's Deputy. He was off duty at the time of the crash and taking the children to school in Eads.
Mitchell and all the children killed were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.
The children are identified as 11-year-old Austyn Ackinson, 4-year-old Tony Mitchell, 10-year-old Tayla Mitchell, 13-year-old Andy Dawson and 17-year-old Jeremy Franks.
All of those killed lived at The Mitchell House, a home for adopted and foster children run by Mitchell.
"They were a very dedicated, loving family, had foster kids for many, many years. They were great parents," said family friend Launa Deech.
Seven others riding in the van were hurt. None of the following children were wearing seatbelts. Brandon Rollins, 13, was rushed to Children's Hospital in Denver. His condition is not being released. Daniel Ortega, 16, was taken to Swedish Hospital and is in serious condition. TJ Mitchell, 18, is also at Swedish in critical condition. Robert Miller, 15, and Scott Fua, 17, were both rushed to Swedish Hospital in serious condition.
William Palmer, 14, who was wearing a seatbelt, was taken to Keefe Memorial Hospital in Cheyenne Wells with minor injuries.
The 3-year-old who was injured remains at Children's Hospital. That child's condition is not being released.
The driver of the semi suffered serious injuries.
The cause of the crash is being investigated. Alcohol is not believed to be a factor in the crash.
Mitchell's vehicles, including his patrol SUV, were decorated with flowers and signs in his memory.
The Eads School District RE-1 on its website posted a message about the tragedy:
"It is our understanding that the Mitchell family, with who we are all close, has been affected, and our thoughts and prayers are with them."
School officials said they have assembled a team of counselors and are making them available to anyone affected by the tragedy.
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