Trucker Sentenced to Prison in Fiery I-70 Crash That Killed Five People
Leavenworth, KS – A 59-year-old trucker is headed to prison after pleading no contest to charges stemming from a fiery crash along Interstate 70 in 2017.
On Friday, Kenny B. Ford, of Greeley, CO, was sentenced to serve five years in the Leavenworth County jail.
In January, Ford entered pleas of no contest to five counts of misdemeanor vehicular homicide in connection to a deadly accident that occurred on July 11, 2017, along I-70 westbound near Bonner Springs, KS.
According to prosecutors, Ford was operating a 2015 Freightliner for CO-based Indian Creek Express when he plowed into the rear of three passenger vehicles that had slowed in a construction zone.
The impact caused a fiery chain reaction crash involving a total of four passenger vehicles and a big rig and resulted in the deaths of five motorists.
The victims were Teresa Butler, 61, of Urbana, IL and Karen Lynn Kennedy, 63, of New Palestine, IL; Sheldon Cohen, 83, and his wife, Virginia, 79, of Topeka; and Richard Mireles, 38, of Topeka.
Impairment was determined to have not played a role in the fatal scene.
However, prosecutors argued Ford acted recklessly by failing to heed road signs warning of road work and possible traffic backups.
According to the criminal complaint in the case, each count of vehicular homicide alleged Ford operated “in a manner which created an unreasonable risk of injury to the person or property of another and which constituted a material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances.”
During his sentencing hearing, Ford told District Judge Gerald Kuckelman that he had no intent to harm anyone.
“This was not intentional,” Ford said. “I didn’t mean no harm.”
Judge Kuckelman sentenced Ford to serve a 12-month term for each count and to serve each term consecutively.
This was the maximum penalty that the judge could have imposed under Kansas law, which has sparked outrage among some who believe Ford should have faced more serious charges.
In a news release following the sentencing, Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson defended the charging decision by saying that the misdemeanor charges of vehicular homicide were the only provable charges.
“For a higher level charge, like involuntary manslaughter, you would need to prove he knew his actions were knowingly dangerous, such as impairment while driving, road rage or drag racing,” Thompson said. “That wasn’t something we could prove in this case.”
Families of the victims have reportedly already received an undisclosed insurance settlement and have also filed a lawsuit in federal court against Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA).
The plaintiffs claim DTNA was negligent and should be held partly responsible for the deaths of their loved ones because the truck maker failed to install a collision avoidance system with automatic emergency braking (AEB) on Ford’s truck.
The suit argues such a system could have prevented or mitigated the loss of life.