weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Driver who caused horrific triple-fatal DUI crash draws long prison term

Updated July 21, 2022 - 9:45 am

A man who killed three people in a DUI crash an hour after police let him drive away in rural Nye County was sentenced Tuesday to 24 to 60 years in prison.

Tyler Kennedy received 8 to 20 years for each of three counts of DUI causing death with the sentences to run consecutively. Multiple relatives of the three crash victims expressed anger and cried during victim impact statements seen on a large video screen in the Tonopah courtroom.

Kennedy, 34, careened his pickup into an SUV driven by Idaho resident Michael Durmeier on U.S. Highway 95 near Beatty on March 27, 2021. Michael, his fiancée Lauren Starcevich and Michael’s 12-year-old daughter, Georgia, died in the crash. Two other children in the SUV were injured but survived. Kennedy, who admitted to be being high on opiates and meth, pleaded guilty to the three counts in March.

[ DA calls for state investigation of deputies who failed to stop DUI driver ]

Nye County sheriff’s deputies had questioned and released Kennedy about an hour before the crash at a rest stop despite finding evidence of drug use in his truck and noticing he “was probably under the influence,” according to police bodycam video.

Georgia’s mother, Chelsea Roberts, whose son, Jackson, was injured in the crash lashed out at Kennedy in video testimony. She had urged Nye County District Court Judge Robert Lane to sentence Kennedy to the maximum 60-year term.

“For the rest of your life, you will be known as a murderer,” she said. “You must already know what sort of horrible person you are.”

Roberts said Jackson, now 12, asked her to pass on to Kennedy that he hates him.

Kennedy turned his chair toward the screen but did not react to the family’s emotional statements.

Victim’s mother faults police

Michael’s mother, Gina Durmeier, said both Kennedy and the officers who stopped him before the accident deserve to be punished.

“I’m confident you will pay for by receiving the maximum on all accounts by Judge Lane today,” she said. “And the just punishment you and six officers that put the keys back into your hands allowing you to drive in an impaired state will receive in the end by the God Almighty.”

Prosecutors read a statement written by Starcevich’s father, John, telling Kennedy he damaged the life of Lauren’s daughter.

“My granddaughter, Emerson, now has to grow up and go through life without her amazing mother by her side,” he said.

Lauren’s sister, Olivia Crawford, said the accident that killed her sister forever changed her life.

“Before you decided to get behind the wheel of that truck you had a choice,” she said. “You had a choice every second you were behind that wheel and you chose drugs.”

Investigation reveals failure

Kennedy had admitted to years of addiction to opioids in court records and on police bodycam video.

A Review-Journal investigation showed four sheriff’s deputies did not follow DUI policy when questioning Kennedy at the Area 51 Alien Center store about a gun complaint. He was not given the required sobriety tests, and a former prosecutor and police experts were highly critical of how officers handled the situation, which put a spotlight on police discretion and when an arrest should be required.

Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia said he hopes the lengthy prison sentence will give the family some closure.

“Tyler Kennedy has now been sentenced to 24-60 years, which I can only hope will bring some peace to his victims and their families and friends,” he said in an emailed statement.

Kennedy apologized to the family for the crash.

“For a long time, I put all the blame on the Nye County Sheriff’s Department for their involvement for letting me go prior to the accident,” he said. “I need to take responsibility for my part that played in this. I never should have gotten behind the wheel with drugs in my system in the first place.”

Kennedy’s attorney, Jason Earnest, said as Kennedy got sober and his mind got right, he gave Earnest instructions to plea to everything.

The Nye County sheriff’s department maintained officers did not think Kennedy was too impaired to drive, but bodycam video obtained as part of the newspaper’s investigation contradicted the agency’s statement.

In the video, Kennedy admitted to officers at the scene that he had to regularly use drugs or he would go through withdrawal, according to video’s audio the sheriff’s department initially withheld but eventually made public.

An internal department review determined Deputy Brianna Nelson, Lt. Alan Schrimpf and Detectives Daniel Fischer and Brooke Gentry only violated the agency’s evidence-handling policy. Each officer received a written reprimand, records show. Roberts said the minor punishment added “insult to injury.”

Sheriff said officers not at fault

Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly also maintained her deputies were not at fault because officers from the Nevada Highway Patrol and Bureau of Land Management also didn’t stop Kennedy. But bodycam video does not show those officers had contact with Kennedy after the drugs were found or after he admitted the drug use.

Kennedy’s defense attorney Jason Earnest asked Lane to let the sentences run concurrently, saying Kennedy is taking responsibility for the crash but that the police officers who let him go have not. The judge rejected Earnest’s request.

“That these officers are still employed, it’s unbelievable,” Earnest said, charging that the sheriff tried to cover up their culpability in the crash and the Review-Journal had to fight for the information. “That Sharon Wehrly hasn’t resigned, it’s unbelievable.

“It’s the most egregious mistake I’ve seen by law enforcement ever. There is no integrity over there. It is ironic that a lifelong junkie has more honor than the sheriff’s office,” he said.

Kennedy, in court records, told officers that he had been addicted to drugs for more than a decade and needed to smoke fentanyl every 20 minutes to stave off withdrawal. His LinkedIn page showed a spotty employment history.

The Tolleson, Arizona, resident told police he was driving from the Phoenix area to Oregon to check himself into drug rehab. Since the crash, Kennedy had been charged with escape from a treatment facility and sexual misconduct with other prisoners. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Contact Rachel Aston at raston@reviewjournal.com and follow her on Twitter @rookie__rae. Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com and follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.