Friday, March 24, 2000

Truck driver: 'I just couldn't stop'

Defendant tells of four deaths

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Clayton Kuehn felt the brakes lock beneath his truck as it bore down on the van filled with children.

        The tires skidded violently on the pavement. Smoke poured from the wheel wells.

        At that moment, he says, he knew he wouldn't make it.

        “I just couldn't stop,” Mr. Kuehn told a jury Thursday.

        The next thing he remembers, he said, is sitting stunned in the cab of his 75,000-pound truck, looking at the wreckage strewn across the highway.

        Mr. Kuehn told his story for the first time Thursday at his trial in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

        The 40-year-old trucker from Cadiz, Ky., said he did everything he could to avoid the Aug. 5 collision that killed four people and injured eight.

        Prosecutors have asked a jury to convict him on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, charges that carry a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

        Witnesses have testified that Mr. Kuehn's speed of 45-50 mph was too fast for the heavy traffic on Interstate 275 that afternoon.

        But Mr. Kuehn testified he was driving responsibly.

        Seconds before the crash, he said, he felt something “nudge” his truck. After checking his mirrors for a moment to see what caused it, he looked up to see the van's brake lights ahead of him.

        “I didn't see the van until I saw the brake lights,” he said. “It was a very, very tragic accident.”

        He later admitted that he must not have kept enough distance. “You are the cause of all these people's deaths?” asked Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Krumpelbeck.

        “Yes, sir,” answered Mr. Kuehn.

        Throughout the trial, Mr. Krumpelbeck has referred to Mr. Kuehn as the “Grim Reaper,” the name he used on the CB radio. Mr. Kuehn said he got the nickname after dressing up one Halloween.

        He also apologized to the families of the victims — Kenneth Sanders, 36; Whitney Sanders, 11; Oshanna Upton, 16; and Bethany Hayes, 11. They were part of a church group from Knoxville, Tenn.

        “If there was anything I could do to bring back your loved ones, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Mr. Kuehn said.


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