Crash claims lives of two Versailles children; parents flown to UC

Wanda English Burnett

Last Thursday, March 24, a horrific crash on US 421 South of Versailles, claimed the lives of two children, Kacy Nonoka Indiana Brown, 7, and her sister, Grace Nana Brown, 6.

Kristopher C. Brown, 31, of Versailles was stopped southbound on US 421 waiting to turn left onto County Road 450 South, when he was struck in the rear by a semi truck. He and his wife, Ai Odashima Brown, 36, were critically injured in the crash that claimed the lives of their daughters.
According to information from police, the impact caused the vehicles to continue south of the intersection and eventually come to rest in the northbound lane of US 421.

The Brown family was in a 2004 S10 four-door pickup truck where the children were riding in the back seat. Police say they were killed instantly. Both parents were airlifted in separate helicopters to the University Hospital in Cincinnati, OH, with extremely critical injuries. US 421 was completely shut down from the time of the crash, which was about 4:30 p.m. until after 7:00 p.m. Multiple agencies responded to the scene including several state troopers, Ripley County Sheriff’s deputies, Holton and Milan police departments, Versailles Fire Department, New Marion Fire Department, Rescue 69, and the Ripley County Coroner's office.

Driving the semi tractor was Steve M. Heightchew, 50, of New Castle, KY. He did not have a trailer attached and was not injured in the crash.

Heightchew was taken for routine drug and alcohol testing from the crash scene. According to Master Trooper Ben Bastin, who was the investigating officer at the scene, it appears driver inattention was likely a factor in the crash. Sgt. Noel Houze of the Indiana State Police told the Osgood Journal that the tests will not be completed for up to four weeks, but there was no evidence at the scene to indicate drugs or alcohol contributed to the crash. It is also believed that speed was not a factor.

Master Trooper Bastin is expected to turn the case over to the Ripley County Prosecutor later this week for review for any possible charges involving the semi driver.

The tragic loss of life has impacted the Versailles community and beyond.

Both girls were students at South Ripley Elementary School where Grace was in kindergarten and Kacy in the first grade. Elementary school principal Mark Collier told the Osgood Journal last week that the teachers in each respective class had been notified and were in the process of calling as many parents as possible of students that were in their classrooms. They also will have counselors available this week, along with clergy and volunteers from the Good News Club, where the girls attended, to help with the grieving process at the school.

Kris Lafary, first grade teacher noted, “She (Kacy) was one of my bright shining stars.” School staff agreed the girls will both be missed by the entire school.

A community reaches out
Churches across the county held special prayers and some took up love offerings for the Brown family on Sunday.

The church where the family attended, Osgood United Methodist, has launched a “Project Origami Cranes” for the Brown family since Ai is Japanese. They are asking those who want to participate to make origami cranes. They will need 4,000 of them - 1,000 for each family member.

According to information from Osgood UMC Pastor Ginny Hizer, origami is an ancient art in Japan. The crane is a majestic bird which mates for life and is extremely loyal to its partner. The bird is strong, graceful and beautiful.

It is noted that because of the great importance of the crane, the Japanese people feel that a person who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted his or her greatest wish, such as a long life or recovery from illness or injury.

According to Pastor Hizer, the cranes are a symbol of “motherly love” and a way for the community to show support and concern for this grieving family. For more information on the crane project you can go online at Also, the church is planning for a local origamist to visit their church. Details will be announced as soon as this is finalized with the community welcome to attend. You can also contact Pastor Hizer at or call 812-537-1928 or 513-607-3194.

The family is loved by the congregation at Osgood UMC where many remember a recent spaghetti supper fundraiser where the children were particularly involved.

Ripley County Clerk Mary Ann McCoy could barely talk about the accident, but said the girls were sweet as they could be in their aprons as they helped at the recent dinner at the church where she also attends.

Others in the clerk’s office will forever remember how the family came in on Thursday of last week, just before the crash, to apply for passports for the girls to travel to Ai’s native land in the summer for her sister’s wedding. “They just left here,” one employee noted.

The family’s extraordinary friendliness was the topic of conversation as the girls are remembered as fun-loving, bright, delightful children, who “always had a smile.”

Hundreds of calls have been pouring in to the Stratton-Karsteter Funeral Home, where services are pending for the children, and the South Ripley School asking about funds set up for the family, or ways in which the community can help.

There is now a fund in place at the United Community Bank (UCB) in Versailles for the Brown family. You can make donations directly to the bank there.

Pastor Hizer encourages people to pray first and foremost for the family, the church, the school community and the truck driver involved in the accident. “Pray for all who are reeling from this tragedy,” she noted.

Editor’s note: Obituary notices for Kacy and Grace Brown are expected to be released in this week’s Thursday paper, The Versailles Republican.

Several emergency crews responded to a crash on US 421 South of Versailles, last Thursday where the top photo shows the semi towering over the truck it hit from the southbound direction and then spun in a circle to head both vehicles northbound. Below shows the force of the impact that knocked the pickup truck's rear axles completely off. Kristopher Brown and his wife, and two children were waiting to turn when the crash occurred. The Brown's daughters were killed instantly and Kris and his wife, Ai, were flown to UC hospital in critical condition.