Truck driver sentenced to five years in jail for fatal crash

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

A man has been sentenced to five years in the Leavenworth County Jail for a 2017 crash that resulted in five deaths.

Kenny B. Ford was sentenced Friday in Leavenworth County District Court for five misdemeanor counts of vehicular homicide.

The charges stemmed from a July 11, 2017, crash on Interstate 70 near 174th Street in southern Leavenworth County.

Ford was driving a 2015 Freightliner truck in the westbound lanes of the interstate when he was involved in a multi-vehicle crash that resulted in the deaths of Teresa J. Butler, Karen L. Kennedy, Sheldon H. Cohen, Virginia Cohen and Ricardo Mireles.

“This is one of the sadder cases that I’ve dealt with over the years,” District Judge Gerald Kuckelman said during Friday’s sentencing hearing.

Because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing was conducted using an online videoconferencing service.

Ford pleaded no contest to the five counts of vehicular homicide in January. Sentencing had been delayed because of the pandemic.

Court records indicate Ford lives in Mississippi.

Assistant County Attorney Shawn Boyd said Friday that he and the defense attorney, Benjamin Casad, were never able to come to an agreement regarding a sentencing recommendation in the case.

Kuckelman was recently assigned to the case after the retirement of another judge.

Boyd presented Kuckelman with photos of the accident scene during Friday’s hearing.

Boyd said at the time of the accident, a turnpike toll plaza was under construction. And this greatly slowed traffic on the interstate.

The prosecutor said signs had been posted to alert drivers, but Ford did not slow down as he entered the area.

“He didn’t pay attention to the signs,” Boyd said. “He didn’t slow down at all.”

Boyd said the tractor-trailer driven by Ford struck three other vehicles.

The prosecutor said a black box from one of the struck vehicles revealed the car had been traveling 6 or 7 mph just before the accident. After it was struck, the vehicle reached a speed of 58 mph in less than a second.

Boyd acknowledged the crash had been unintentional.

The prosecutor said Ford has taken responsibility for what happened and is remorseful. But Boyd said this does not change the fact that five people were killed.

Boyd argued Ford’s actions resulted in dozens of other victims who were impacted by the loss of loved ones.

The prosecutor recommended a five-year jail sentence in the case.

Ford expressed remorse when given the opportunity to speak.

His attorney noted that drugs and alcohol played no role in the crash.

“It’s basically a case of negligence,” Casad said.

Casad argued a one-year jail sentence followed by one year of probation was reasonable.

Angelica Mireles, a family member of one of the victims, spoke during the sentencing hearing.

She said her brother, Ricardo Mireles, is “missed by us every single day.”

Kuckelman said he had read victim impact statements written by loved ones of the people who were killed in the crash.

Kuckelman said operating a motor vehicle is a great responsibility. He said the responsibility of driving a car is nothing compared to driving a “big rig” on highways.

“You had that responsibility and you failed," Kuckelman said to Ford. “And because of your failure, a lot of people are paying the price.”

Kuckelman imposed a 12-month sentence in the county jail for each of the five counts of vehicular homicide. He ordered these sentences to run consecutive to each other for a total of five years.

“And the defendant will begin serving his sentence forthwith,” the judge said.

County Attorney Todd Thompson said in a news release that the misdemeanor charge of vehicular homicide was the only applicable charge in the case.

“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 in the news release. “That wasn’t something we could prove in this case.”

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

Kenny B. Ford