On Monday morning, Walter Ostendorf was driving from Cape Girardeau, where he had bought groceries, to his Dutchtown home. Ostendorf, 91, played cards every Tuesday night with several of his grown children, and it was his turn to cook.
It was while he was driving on Bloomfield Road just south of the city limits that authorities say he lost control of the white 1984 Dodge Prospector, swerved into the wrong lane and collided with an oncoming car.
The head-on collision left Ostendorf dead and the driver of the other car, 61-year-old Phyllis Riegert of Delta, Mo., in fair condition after undergoing emergency surgery at St. Francis Medical Center. Police said neither was wearing a seat belt.
"He was such a good-hearted guy," said Ostendorf's daughter, Norma Lancaster of Jackson, Mo. "He would do anything for anybody. He loved to play cards, and we played pitch every Tuesday night. We hardly ever missed it."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and rescue personnel from the Cape Girardeau Fire Department were called at about 10 a.m. to the accident, which took place on Bloomfield near Benton Hill Road.
Riegert had to be extricated from her 1989 Pontiac Bonneville. It took about five minutes to get the door off, said fire department Capt. Paul Breitenstein.
Breitenstein said Riegert was conscious but Ostendorf -- who had a history of heart problems -- was in cardiac arrest when they arrived.
"Whether it was the cardiac arrest that caused the accident or the accident that caused the cardiac arrest, I don't know," Breitenstein said.
Highway patrol troopers talked to one witness, who said she could not tell if Ostendorf was slumping over the wheel at the time of the accident. The witness declined to be interviewed by a reporter.
"But there's nothing to suggest he died of anything except that accident," said patrolman Doug McDaniel. "All we know for sure is that he lost control and crossed the center line."
McDaniel estimated that speed was not a factor.
Witnesses said traffic came to a sudden stop after the collision.
"We got out and looked and saw that the white truck was smoking," said an Advance woman who was two or three cars behind Riegert and declined to be identified. "We were afraid it was going to blow up. The man in the truck didn't even look like he was breathing."
Ostendorf was pronounced dead at St. Francis Medical Center at 10:32 a.m.
Cape Girardeau County Coroner Mike Hurst said the accident would be listed as an accidental traffic death. Hurst declined to speculate about whether Ostendorf may have had a heart attack.
"The man's 91 years old," Hurst said. "You can always speculate that. Anything could have happened."
Lancaster said her father was blind in one eye. She said she believes something happened to him, and he didn't just swerve into oncoming traffic for no reason.
"It probably was a massive heart attack," she said. "He'd had heart trouble. He drove that road all the time. There was no reason for it to happen. It was a bright and sunny day."
Lancaster said that her father was a carpenter and had been a farmer in his younger days.
"He would do anything for anybody," she said. "He still cooked his own meals and cleaned his house. He'd go to church every Sunday. He was such a good father."
Ostendorf was survived by two brothers, three sons and two daughters. His wife died in 1993.
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