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Victim's family disheartened by Kansas court's sentence

Criminal prosecutors are bound by evidence. A defendant can be acquitted without lock tight proof of criminal involvement. Some families of Kansas accident victims are shocked when a negligent or reckless driver walks free, receives reduced charges or suffers a light punishment.

Dismay among family members was evident recently in a Jackson County courtroom, where a 25-year-old man was sentenced for causing a fatal hit-and-run accident. The defendant was ordered to spend 120 days in prison followed by probation after pleading guilty to involuntary vehicular manslaughter due to intoxication and leaving the scene of an accident.

The judge applied the terms of a plea deal, suspending the initial 11-year combined sentence for both crimes. Prosecutors admitted the state lacked evidence to press the case. This is the second drunk driving accident to devastate the victim's family.

The sentence related to an April 2013 crash, when the defendant abandoned his pickup truck after hitting a motorcyclist. Police said the 57-year-old victim was struck and died after the pickup ran a red light. The truck driver surrendered the day after the fatality.

Police talked to witnesses who confirmed the driver drank alcohol at a bar before the crash and seemed intoxicated. Investigators also learned the driver was talking on a cellphone and in the area of the motorcycle collision at the time of the hit-and-run crash.

The man who died suffered an enormous loss in 2011. The accident victim's spouse and 11-year-old daughter died in a wrong-way collision on Interstate 435. The driver who caused the accident was driving under the influence.

While Kansas liability claims are largely about compensation for plaintiffs' losses, there is another reason victims and families file civil lawsuits. This is the plaintiff's chance to take the claim to a personal level. Plaintiffs often feel a sense of closure when a verdict confirms a defendant's careless or reckless behavior.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Drunken driver sentenced in accident that killed Belton man" Brian Burnes and Crystal Thomas, Jul. 11, 2014

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