Truck driver in triple-fatal crash gets 90 days on amended charge

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 NOTE: This report has been updated with additional information provided by the prosecutor, which clarifies why charges against Warren were dismissed and amended.

The Tennessee truck driver who drove overtop a vehicle and killed three people in May 2017 will face only three months in jail after a review of evidence in the case suggests the driver may have suffered a medical issue.

Richie B. Warren entered a guilty plea on Monday, which dismissed two counts of reckless homicide and amended a third count and a wanton endangerment offense to lesser charges. He was originally scheduled to go to trial this coming Monday.

On May 11, 2017, Warren was driving a tractor-trailer on the Bluegrass Parkway when he crossed the median and struck an oncoming vehicle occupied by a Harrodsburg couple, Delmer and Delores Odell, and their two grandchildren. The impact killed Delmer, Delores and 3-year-old Keren Odell. Keren’s 5-year-old sister, Phoebe, was the lone survivor of the Odell vehicle but sustained serious injuries.

The case against Warren has been ongoing since the crash. In July 2017, the first of three lawsuits were filed, and about a year later, Warren and his employer were ordered to pay around $1.3 million to the victims’ family.

Talk of possible criminal responsibility in the case began not long after the lawsuits were introduced, and court documents speculated Warren had possibly ingested medication prior to the collision. In October of last year, Warren was indicted on the reckless homicide and endangerment charges, though no drug references were made in the indictment.

Warren previously had a trial date set for April of this year, but the trial was postponed to allow time for mediation in the case. According to Joe Ballard, assistant commonwealth attorney and prosecutor in the case, members of the Odell family participated in the mediation and were agreeable to the terms of the plea.

According to the judgment, one of the reckless homicide charges was amended to possession of a controlled substance not in a proper container, and the endangerment charge was amended to reckless driving. As part of the plea deal, Warren was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay a $100 fine. He was also conditionally discharged for two years provided he commits no new offenses, undergoes a substance abuse assessment and forfeits his commercial driver's license for the rest of his life.

As noted in the plea agreement, Warren was in possession of hydrocodone and had the drug in his system at the time of the crash. He also had a prescription, but the drug was not in the proper container. In a follow-up email with The Kentucky Standard, Ballard clarified that Warren only had trace amounts of hydrocodone in his system and that an expert reviewed the toxicology results but could not conclude Warren was impaired as the result of any type of controlled substance when the crash occurred.

"There was no evidence that Warren was operating the tractor-trailer under the influence," Ballard said. "He was traveling at approximately the speed limit and there was no evidence he was driving erratically prior to the collision."

Ballard also noted Warren had told witnesses he felt light-headed and had passed out. He was also a diabetic and had medical documentation which indicated the cause of the crash was Warren passing out due to a medical syncope that was beyond his control, Ballard said.

A pre-trial conference took place on Friday when an agreement the plea was reached.

"This was obviously a terrible tragedy and I feel for the Odell family, but we reached a resolution that the Commonwealth believes was appropriate given the facts of the case," Ballard said in the email.

Warren’s case will be reviewed by the court Sept. 5. On that date, he will have to show proof of the substance abuse assessment having been provided.