KEARNEY — A Kearney judge scolded a North Carolina semitrailer driver for his attitude and actions that caused the 2017 death of a western Nebraska teen during a fatal crash on Interstate 80.
“Frankly, your actions give all honest and good truck drivers a bad reputation,” Judge John Rademacher told Drew Davis on Wednesday during his sentencing hearing in Buffalo County Court.
On June 29, 2017, Davis, 39, of Gastonia, N.C., pulled a 2008 Peterbilt semitrailer truck onto the south shoulder of I-80 near the Odessa interchange to look up directions. As he tried to merge back into the eastbound driving lane Davis collided with a 2007 Honda Accord, killing front seat passenger Rachelle Kort, 14, of Mitchell.
On Wednesday, Rademacher gave Davis the maximum sentenced of one year in jail for misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide in Kort’s death.
Kort’s family members wept as the sentence was handed down.
Sign up for Kearney Hub daily news updates
Two relatives wore purple T-shirts with pink flowers and a photo of the round-faced teen with braided hair and glasses.
During the hearing Davis’ court-appointed attorney Brandon Brinegar of Kearney asked for time served for his client, saying Davis has been in jail half a year, lost his job, his commercial driver’s license and missed out on important family events.
“He has already faced and accepted a substantial punishment in this matter,” said Brinegar.
Davis apologized to Kort’s family for his actions and asked Rademacher for the opportunity to go back home and put his life back together.
Patrick Lee, a deputy Buffalo County Attorney, asked for the maximum sentence saying on the day of the crash Davis expected other vehicles to yield to him as he merged onto I-80. Lee argued Davis was either on his phone at the time of the crash, or called his dispatcher shortly after.
“Only the defendant knows the truth,” he said.
Todd Suchsland, a Nebraska State Patrol officer, collected Davis’s cellphone data as part of his investigation. The phone showed Davis had a seven-minute, eight-second call to his dispatcher starting at 2:13 p.m., then he made an outgoing 911 call at 2:21 p.m.
Suchsland was notified of the crash at 2:19 p.m.
Davis testified Wednesday that the 2:13 p.m. call was from his dispatcher who said Davis needed to switch semis and take a delivery to another location. Davis said he pulled over onto the shoulder of I-80 and put the new coordinates into his GPS.
As he started merging, Davis said he saw the right eastbound driving lane was free, so he pulled back on to I-80 at around 30-50 mph. In his mirror Davis saw a car coming up behind him fast, and assumed it would move over like other drivers.
“I saw an opening and I took it, and every other vehicle merged,” he said.
Lee asked Davis about a text his dispatcher sent asking Davis if he would make the new delivery on time. Davis responded to the dispatcher saying he could because “I’m an interstate bully.”
Davis told Lee on Wednesday his comment was “just truck driving humor.”
Rademacher told Davis instead of pulling to the shoulder to talk with his dispatcher, Davis should have pulled completely off the roadway, then chosen a better time to merge back into traffic.
Rademacher scolded Davis for complaining about missing time with his family while incarcerated. Rademacher said Davis needed to take Kort’s family into consideration.
“... we won’t have the opportunity to see her graduate, go to college, get married, have kids ...” Rademacher read from a prepared letter from Kort’s family.
Rademacher ordered Davis to pay a court fine and costs totaling $1,545, and gave him 163 days credit for time already served in jail. With good time Davis could be released in five weeks.
In July, he pleaded no contest to the charge, reduced from felony motor vehicle homicide.