Ware guilty of vehicular homicide
A jury convicts the Lineville man for a fatal Audubon County drunk-driving crash
May 24, 2013
Audubon County jurors Thursday found Kendall L. Ware guilty of homicide by vehicle and causing serious injury for a crash that killed a 17-year-old boy.
Ware, 57, of Lineville, faces up to 30 years in prison for the two felonies. Sentencing is set for July 8 in Audubon County District Court, where Ware's three-day trial concluded following three hours of jury deliberation.
The jury of eight women and four men rejected Ware's defense that he was drunk only after the incident, not while driving a pickup truck at the time of the wreck north of Brayton on U.S. Highway 71 on Oct. 19, 2011. The truck went too wide around a curve and collided head-on with a sport utility vehicle.
The crash killed 17-year-old Kristopher George Crawley, of Audubon, whose family attended the full trial this week.
The boy's father, James "Cricket" Crawley, 56, an Audubon streets department employee, said the verdict will help the family cope with the loss.
"It gives some justice for George," Crawley said in an interview outside the courthouse. "There will be a lot of kids happy, especially his classmates."
George Crawley was an Audubon High School senior when he died.
Ware's attorney, Joey Hoover of Winterset, argued that his client drank vodka from at least one Gatorade bottle in the minutes between the crash and arrival of authorities and emergency personnel, raising what Hoover said is reasonable doubt about Ware's intoxication at the time of the collision.
"This isn't a clear-cut case," Hoover said. "This isn't the guy barrelling through the stop sign after being seen drinking 10 beers at the bar."
A blood test taken in the hospital in the hours after the crash revealed that Ware had a blood-alcohol concentration of .205 percent - which is more than twice the legal limit to drive in Iowa. Ware also failed initial alcohol breath tests at Cass County Memorial Hospital in Atlantic, where he had been taken for treatment for unspecified injuries, authorities said.
Cass County Deputy Benjamin Bartholomew said the powerful smell of alcohol wafting off Ware in the hospital could be easily detected, even outside of his room.
"There's no doubt after the accident Mr. Ware was intoxicated - zero doubt," Hoover said.
Audubon County Attorney Francine Andersen said the contention that Ware consumed enough booze while trapped in his pickup as authorities sped to the scene, and then extricated him from the wreckage, defied common sense - and medical science. She said Ware would have vomited at the crash site or in the hospital if he drank the alcohol necessary to go from under the legal limit of .08 to .205 in the time the defense alleged. Andersen put that time frame at about 10 minutes - a figure the defense didn't dispute in court.
"Is it reasonable to think that the defendant, Kenneth Lee Ware, drank more than 12 ounces of alcohol after this crash?" Anderson asked.
Ware, and the co-worker with whom he was driving, Mark Piearson, 31, of Leon, reportedly were headed back to fields south of Atlantic that the two had worked earlier in the harvest-season day.
Ware also wanted to re-connect with a woman he met days before the crash at an undisclosed bar in the Atlantic area, Piearson said. Hoover seized on this fact to suggest Ware may have been thinking about the woman when he hit the curve in the road and caused the crash at 11:25 p.m.
"Maybe he was distracted by the thought of this woman that he couldn't get out of his mind," Hoover said.
Or, perhaps, Hoover said, Ware was tired from a long day in the fields, hauling soybeans to a nearby grain elevator.
"We've all done it," Hoover said. "You're daydreaming. The next thing you know, you're looking down at your speedometer, and you can't believe how fast you're going."
Two state patrol troopers who investigated the crash said evidence - including a data-collection module in Ware's truck - showed that Ware was taking the curve at a speed of between 78 and 84 mph.
The driver of Crawley's sport utility vehicle, Jason Rattenborg, 22, of Audubon, suffered a collapsed lung, severe injuries to the chest and a bruised liver, said his physician, Dr. James Cunningham of Aububon.
Cunningham said medical records show no alcohol was detected in Rattenborg's system at 2:35 a.m. the morning after the crash. Medical professionals screened Rattenborg for alcohol and other substances at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, where he had been transported by a medical helicopter from Audubon. Several law-enforcement officials testified that evidence revealed Rattenborg was not intoxicated, and did nothing improper as he swerved in a failed attempt to avoid the crash.
Andersen said Crawley and Rattenborg were on a late-night run from Audubon to McDonald's in Atlantic and were in the last car to make it into the drive-thru before the fast-food restaurant closed. Both ordered sweet tea for the ride home, and Crawley ate two McChickens with cheese. Rattenborg ordered four chicken snack wraps - two for that night, and the others to save for lunch the next day.
"They talked about their plans, what they wanted to do," Andersen said.
In the flash before the crash, Rattenborg, who saw the speeding truck cross the center line, warned his friend.
"We're either going to see an accident or this is going to hurt," Rattenborg yelled to George Crawley, according to the county attorney.
Blood tests often take weeks to complete, and Ware, after being released from the hospital, apparently left Iowa before he could be arrested for the crimes. The initial felony charges were filed in June 2012, about eight months after the crash.
U.S. Marshals Service officers arrested Ware in Minot, N.D., a city of about 42,000 in the northern part of that state.
A lawsuit filed by Rattenborg and Crawley's parents against Ware and his employer, Handlos Harvesting, claims that Ware was working at the time of the crash, and that Handlos Harvesting allows its employees to drink alcohol while at work. Handlos Harvesting denied the allegations in court records.
Piearson said Ware had a job-related alcohol incident in the days leading up to the crash - a statement Andersen referenced in her closing argument to jurors.
"He remembers that the defendant was corrected by his boss for having vodka present in one of the Handlos vehicles," Andersen said.
In an interview at the courthouse following the trial, Hoover declined to comment about whether Ware gave a reason for chugging vodka after the crash.
Hoover said he expected to appeal the decision.
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