A Summersville semitruck driver who was involved in a fatal 2020 crash in West Plains has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. The crash had resulted in the death of a woman from Dora, Anna Hambelton.
David A. Keeler, 43, was also found guilty of second-degree assault and sentenced to seven years on that conviction, to be served concurrently with the 10-year sentence. A wrongful death lawsuit filed June 29, 2020, on behalf of the victim's family members is ongoing and lists Keeler as a defendant, along with Ozark Logistic Corporation of Summersville; R&R Express Logistics Inc., Sikeston; and R&R Express Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa.
Court records show Keeler was to have begun a jury trial on the criminal charges July 12, but on July 10 waived his right to a jury trial and instead had a bench trial before 37th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Steven Privette, who heard the case July 12 and handed down the sentence on Sept. 5, with Keeler beginning his sentence immediately.
The charges were filed following the Jan. 20, 2020, collision at the intersection of U.S. 63 and Gibson Avenue, within the jurisdiction of the West Plains Police Department. Bryan Brauer, a now-retired detective for the police department and the lead investigator of the incident, reported that at about 7:09 p.m. that evening, officers responded to the crash to find a vehicle had been struck by a tractor-trailer, and it appeared the occupants of the vehicle had serious injuries.
The occupants, driver William Hambelton and passenger Anna Hambelton, both of Dora, had to be extricated from the vehicle, and personnel from the West Plains Fire Department and South Howell County Ambulance responded to the scene to provide assistance, Brauer reported.
Brauer’s report also said that William Hambelton was taken first to Ozarks Healthcare, then transferred to a Springfield hospital for treatment of serious injuries, and was unable to make a statement at the time of the accident.
Anna Hambelton, 61, was also taken to Ozarks Healthcare for treatment but succumbed to her injuries about 40 minutes after the collision, Brauer stated, adding that Keller was injured but refused treatment at the scene and made a statement to officers that the light had turned red and he attempted to stop when the vehicle pulled out and was struck.
Four witnesses were also interviewed at the scene and said Keller's semi was traveling north on U.S. 63, did not slow down, and ran the red light, striking the Hambeltons’ vehicle. An additional two witnesses were later interviewed, according to court records, and also told investigators the semi failed to stop for the red light or slow down.
Evidence at the scene showed the semi, a 2015 Peterbilt pulling a flatbed trailer, was northbound in the outside lane of U.S. 63, approaching the intersection, when the light on Gibson Avenue turned green, giving William Hambelton the right of way to cross the highway, westbound.
Witnesses stated the Hambelton vehicle, a 2010 Pontiac G6, proceeded to cross the intersection on the green light and was struck on the driver's side by the semi, and the impact caused the car to come to rest north of the intersection off the east side of the road.
Brauer stated during the investigation no skid marks were observed at the scene that would indicate Keeler applied the brakes, causing them to lock up at the time of the crash, and the semi continued another 981 feet after the impact before stopping on the shoulder of the road.
Brauer also noted damage to the driver's side of the Hambelton vehicle and the front of Keeler's semi. Due to Keeler’s statement that the light was red when he entered the intersection and the statements of six witnesses who said they saw Keeler run the red light, Brauer filed a request with prosecutors that Keeler be charged with involuntary manslaughter for recklessly causing the death of Anna Hambelton.
The crash led to an outcry by citizens and members of Hambelton's family, including her brother, Doug Martin, who made an appeal to city council members during a regular meeting almost one month to the day after her death. Martin asked what could be done to improve the safety of intersections along the U.S. 63 bypass, also known as Jan Howard Exressway. At the time of Hambelton's death there were eight intersections with traffic signals on the bypass, from the south city limits at the intersection of Bill Virdon Boulevard, traveling west and north with lights at Lanton Road, Highway 17, Ramseur Road, Preacher Roe Boulevard, K Highway, West Broadway and CC Highway. Another light on Fifth Street was planned in order to allow traffic to turn onto the bypass near Ozarks Healthcare, and that signal has since been installed.
The speed limit along the four-mile stretch of highway that runs through business areas on both sides is 45.
In speaking with council members, Martin said there had been 58 accidents at the CC Highway intersection alone in the three years prior to his sister's crash. At the time Martin added he had also been in contact with the Missouri Department of Transportation to try to find a solution, but was told by MoDOT officials it was not likely there would not be a change in signal length or added signage warning drivers about signal changes at intersections, and that has proven to be the case.
William Hambelton, now living in West Plains, and Kasey Hambelton, also of West Plains, are named as plaintiffs in the civil suit. Court records show the case will be heard before 37th Judicial Associate Circuit Court Judge R. David Ray, but a trial date has not been set.