Donnie Lang was driving home with his wife Saturday night when the windshield on their Dodge truck seemed to explode.
"It just sounded like a bomb went off," Bertie Lang said, as she recalled looking at Donnie, whose face was bleeding, cut by shards of flying glass. Donnie’s first thought was that maybe an owl had crashed into them, but the missile that sent him to the Emergency Room that night was actually a cherry flavored soft drink in a plastic foam Sonic cup.
The Langs live south of Great Bend and were coming home from Ellinwood after watching some movies at their son’s house, Bertie said. It was about 10 minutes after midnight, so technically it was Sunday morning. About half a mile west of the Dartmouth blacktop, they met a vehicle headed toward Ellinwood. As they passed, the other driver flung the cup, which hit the Langs’ windshield on the driver side.
"Then I looked over and he was bleeding; his face was cut but I couldn’t tell how bad," Bertie said. "So we pulled over and I got him in the passenger seat, and when I fought to get in the driver’s seat it was full of glass." She called her son and daughter-in-law, turned the truck around at met them at the Ellinwood District Hospital Emergency Room. She also called 911, and as medics started tending to cuts on Donnie’s face, several law enforcement officers showed up.
The case was worked by the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, but the Kansas Highway Patrol and Ellinwood Police Department also responded.
"At the time, we didn’t know what had happened," said KHP Master Trooper Dave Jacobs.
But it didn’t take long to find the source of the damage. Along with a gaping hole in the windshield and pieces of glass throughout the truck were the shredded remains of the drink cup. Remnants of the sticky liquid were also in evidence, and the straw from the cup was lodged against the back window.
Bits of glass were everywhere, including Bertie’s hair, she later discovered. Looking back, she’s glad they were both wearing leather jackets. "Thank God he wore glasses," she said. The lenses were scratched but protected Donnie’s eyes. His beloved Harley jacket, however, was ruined.
Surveying the damage at the crime scene, Master Trooper Jacobs commented that it had the appearance of a deliberate act. Even if it wasn’t, a cup of ice thrown from a moving vehicle at a windshield approaching at 65 mph could be potentially lethal.
So throwing the cup at that moment was more than littering – it was battery, Undersheriff Larry Holliday said. The crime is being investigated as a misdemeanor, but if the injuries or damage had been more severe, it could have escalated into a felony.
In fact, after finding the straw in the back window, Bertie Lang had hopes that officers might want to check for DNA evidence. She admits her perspective may have been skewed by her fondness for forensic crime shows – not to mention her love for her husband, and the thought of what could have happened. But short of the evidence going to a Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab, she hopes that telling their story can prevent such a thing from happening to someone else. Perhaps the driver will realize what he or she has done; there’s event a chance that someone else on U.S. 56 that night passed the mystery vehicle and can provide more information.
Without a license number or even a description of the vehicle to go on, Holliday admits it’s unlikely this crime will be solved. However, if anyone does have information, he encourages them to contact the BCSO by calling 620-793-1876, or Crime Stoppers, 792-1300.