Fatal crash shuts down I-35 in Johnson County for hours

MERRIAM, Kansas - Authorities have identified the victim of Tuesday morning's fatal rollover wreck as 15-year-old Raina Esparza.

According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, Esparza was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle headed southbound on Interstate 35 just after 6:30 a.m.

The 35-year-old male driver lost control and over-corrected, causing the SUV to flip and land on its side.

Raina, who was not wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The wreck snarled traffic in the southbound lanes for several hours.

Video from Kansas City Scout showed the backup had already grown extensive by 6:50 a.m. Nearly 40 minutes later, the backup had grown past 635 and was slowing northbound traffic, though no lanes in that direction were closed.

Authorities cleared the wreckage from the roadway by 7:45 a.m., but the road remained closed for several hours after the wreck.

Drivers were ushered off the highway at the Antioch exit. The detour was a quick one, as you can get right back on the highway on the other end of the wreck, but it remained a stand-still for much of the time the road was closed.

Esparza attended Holy Name Catholic School through last year and Shawnee Mission Northwest.  She also was an Olympic-Hopeful according to her biography on the Turner Golden Gloves Boxing Club website.

Tuesday night family and friends held a prayer service at the Holy Name Catholic Church to remember a beautiful fighter.

"Just know that Raina will never be forgotten.  She will always be with us in spirit," said Raina's godmother, Juanita Garcia.

Raina's parents were not seriously injured in the crash.  Her mother was wearing her seatbelt, although her father, the driver, was not.

Donations may be sent to:
Principal Cathy Rhodes
Holy Name Catholic School
1007 Southwest Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66103


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