The Otero County Undersheriff is walking away with what many would call a slap on the wrist, for causing an accident that severely injured two women.
Tuesday a judge accepted a plea deal for Ken Kimsey.
An 11 News reporter was in the Otero County courtroom. The judge said it was a difficult decision; and one that the families of the victims are very emotional about. They tell 11 News they just wanted Ken Kimsey to “own up to his actions”, and feel he did not do that with this plea deal.
In court Ken Kimsey plead guilty to the charge of following too closely, after the judge accepted the plea deal. A deal that family members of the victims say is letting him off too easy.
One of the victims and the other victim’s daughter spoke up in court asking the judge to not accept the plea deal, saying it was not justice. Rhonda Pepper, who is the daughter of injured passenger Vera Goodrich, said that the DA’s office did not do its job and that the legal system failed her family.
The judge did review over pictures of the accident provided by Rhonda Pepper. He also reviewed Captain Copley’s supplemental report and took into consideration that Kimsey admitted fault the night of the accident, according to that report.
The judge acknowledged the victim’s irreparable pain, but said he has to trust that the DA’s office made a fair plea deal, and that the State Patrol did a proper investigation. And that he has no reason to believe otherwise. He believes any allegations of alcohol abuse impugn the integrity of the State Patrol as three officers were part of the investigation. He said in his 18 years on the bench, the State Patrol has always been honest and diligent to do their job, no matter who was involved.
The judge said he refuses to believe that three officers who interacted with Kimsey missed whether he was drinking or not. He said the real question is, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” He said that is something that court cannot answer. But he did address Kimsey directly, saying, “With you’re experience and knowledge of driving this should not happen.”
11 News spoke with the families of the victims involved. On the phone we talked to the driver of the car Kimsey crashed into, Elizabeth Domsten. She said she is very disappointed and felt like more should have been done. When Domsten spoke in court she asked the judge “Is this justice?” She described to the court how the charge of following too closely didn’t line up with what happened that day. She said there would have been a much lesser impact, if he was truly following too closely. She talked about her injuries including rib fractures, concussion, cervical sprain, plus more that forced her into physical therapy for five months and out of work for 23 weeks. She told 11 News she just got back to work in February.
In court Rhonda Pepper, who is the daughter of Domsten’s passenger, Vera Goodrich, said she is “outraged and emotional about the plea agreement.” She spoke on behalf of her mother and family. She said, “The entire legal system failed my mother.” And that the accident “changed my mother’s life forever.
She described her mother’s tremendous injuries including five neck fractures, fractures to the right clavicle and humorous, fractured left scapula, fractured sternum, 21 rib fractures, L3 vertebrae burst, broken front tooth, and severe trauma to the head. She told the court how her mother was in the hospital for 21 days and then has been transferred in and out of hospitals and had home care from July 15, 2010 until January 8, 2011.
Pepper said her mother Goodrich suffered from early stages of dementia before the accident, but could do her daily routine. She liked to work on the garden and spend time with grand kids. But now, after the accident, her dementia has advanced, and she cannot take care of herself, mentally and physically.
She asked the court why more statements were not provided by the State Patrol and felt there was not a complete investigation into all the accusations.
When 11 News spoke with Rhonda Pepper and family members after the plea was accepted, they said they were “disappointed.” They do not believe the DA’s office did a good job. They don’t think they asked enough questions and that they did not investigate fully, therefore was missing important information. She said they felt their mother was not adequately represented and does not feel they did their job. They also feel the State Patrol did not provide all the proper paperwork and did not conduct a thorough investigation. They say this is leaving them with questions and says it “seems suspicious”. They say that unanswered questions just put doubts in their minds. “Our concern is that it was not thoroughly investigated by the DA’s office. They believe the judge did what he had to do, but they were let down by the DA. “The whole process failed us.”
Pepper said all they want is a fair investigation. They don’t want Kimsey to lose his job, or even go to jail, they just want him to own up to his actions and take responsibility. They say he was not following too closely, he was driving carelessly and that is what he should have admitted to, not the plea deal.
The judge said he never considered Kimsey’s title as Undersheriff while making his decision and said that the investigation and legal system followed protocol in making sure there was never a conflict of interest.
The Otero County Sheriff’s Office first reported to the scene, but had the State Patrol take over the investigation. A prosecutor from the Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office was brought in and a judge dismissed to avoid any conflict of interest.
District Attorney Jennifer Swanson said in court that it would not benefit the public to put Kimsey on trial. And that he should have equal plea deal opportunities. She said they weighed a lot of factors in their decision, including his criminal and driving record which the DA called impeccable. They told the court that Kimsey has not had a ticket since 1974.
Instead of two counts of Careless Driving Causing Injury, the plea deal allowed Kimsey to plead to one count of "Following Too Closely". Kimsey did face 10 days to a year in jail or a $300 to $1,000 fine. But with the deal, he only had to pay a $100 fine plus court costs. As part of the plea deal, Kimsey has to write apology letters to the two women involved in the crash.
As part of the plea deal, this conviction will be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicle. Kimsey will lose three points on his license. If the DMV chooses to revoke his license, Kimsey waives the right to appeal. Also, restitution is ongoing in the case and will remain open for one year. Kimsey also must write letters of apology to both victims.
State Troopers say the Undersheriff crashed into the back of a car when he was off duty last July near the intersection of Highway 10 and County Road 25 in La Junta.
KKTV followed Kimsey out of the courtroom and asked him whether or not he thought it was a fair plea deal, but he had no comment.
According to records, it's unclear if a drug or alcohol test was ever performed on Kimsey. 11 News is working to get all the paperwork from the State Patrol about this crash. We are continuing our investigation into exactly what happened.