Wrong-way driver on I-380 kills 'creative' hospital supervisor on her way home

Police say radio station executive drove wrong way for miles on I-380

Law enforcement investigate the scene of a multiple vehicle crash in the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 south of the 76th Avenue SW overpass in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. According to police, officers received a report just after 9 p.m. of a car going southbound in the northbound lanes. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Law enforcement investigate the scene of a multiple vehicle crash in the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 south of the 76th Avenue SW overpass in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. According to police, officers received a report just after 9 p.m. of a car going southbound in the northbound lanes. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The president of a Cedar Rapids radio station drove the wrong way for more than 3 miles on Interstate 380 Monday night before crashing head-on into a car driven by a hospital supervisor returning home from doing yoga, killing them both, authorities and others said Tuesday.

Cedar Rapids police identified the wrong-way driver as Robert K. Norton Jr., 69, of Iowa City, and the woman he struck as Jennifer R. Koenighain, 28, of Cedar Rapids. Both died at the scene of the crash.

“The intrusion on both vehicles was so severe the injuries were not sustainable with life,” said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow.

The crash entangled a third vehicle, injuring two, and scatted debris that kept a segment of I-380 closed for hours.

Koenighain was a supervisor in the patient accounts department at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Her boyfriend, Steve Goedken, said the two dated at Kennedy High School and then reconnected about a year and a half ago. They were living in Cedar Rapids.

Koenighain loved her family — she talked with her mom every day — as well as friends and her dog, Mika, Goedken said. He said her parents were not available to talk, but loved her dearly.

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Koenighain had a sense of adventure and pushed him to try new things and experiences, he said. She was a vegetarian who loved cooking, reading, learning new things and enjoying game nights with friends, Goedken said.

“She was so creative,” he said. “She was just always looking for new things to try.”

This past Sunday, Koenighain planned a day out for the couple, which included lunch at Basta and darts at Joe’s Place, both in Iowa City, and stopping at Molly’s Cupcakes in North Liberty.

“She had this whole day planned out for us that was just so amazing,” Goedken said. “More or less, that was the last time I got to spend with her.”

Koenighain was on her way back from doing yoga with a friend in North Liberty, Goedken said, when she was struck and killed.

Investigators believe, at this stage of the investigation, that Norton entered the northbound lanes of I-380 — but driving south — at the 33rd Avenue SW ramp.

That means he would have driven through the cloverleaf interchange with Highway 30 before crashing shortly after.

“At this point, there are no indications of any particular reason that he was driving the wrong way on the interstate,” Buelow said.

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Police received multiple calls about 9:10 p.m. Monday of a car going south in the northbound lanes of the interstate. By the time they found the car, it had collided.

The 2007 Toyota Prius driven by Norton crashed into a 2008 Volvo S40 driven by Koenighain between 76th Avenue SW and Wright Brothers Boulevard SW.

Authorities said a third vehicle, a 2016 Chevrolet Traverse, also became involved in the crash. Two people in the Traverse suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Norton was president of KZIA-FM 102.9 in southwest Cedar Rapids.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all involved in the accident, as well as with their families and friends,” the station said in a statement.

Rick Sellers, president and general manager at KMRY-FM 91.3, said he knew Norton as a “maverick” in the radio field.

“He tried things,” Sellers said. “Sometimes they didn’t work and sometimes they worked splendidly and I was in awe of him.”

Sellers said Norton and business partner Eliot Keller started KRNA-FM in the 1970s and owned it together until 1998. Norton and Keller later purchased KZIA, which was formerly known at KQCR-FM. Norton wasn’t afraid to spend money to improve the station, Sellers said.

“I really respected him,” he said.

Wrong-way driving fatalities account for about only 1 percent of all traffic deaths in a year in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

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Since they usually involve head-on collisions at highway speeds, they are far more deadly than other types of crashes.

In July 2016, a wrong-way driver also heading south in the northbound lanes on I-380 — but at the Swisher and Shueyville exit — caused a deadly crash. The wrong-way driver and two others were killed.

Buelow said it’s too early in this investigation to determine whether drugs or alcohol were a factor. He said an autopsy will be performed, which will include toxicology testing.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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