Passenger: Driver wanted to toss booze after deadly crash
Trial continues today for man charged in Audubon County crash that killed 17-year-old boy
May 23, 2013
Moments following a fatal head-on crash Kendall Ware predicted a fate jurors are expected to decide as soon as today.
"Oh (expletive)! I'm probably going to jail for this," Ware, 57, allegedly yelled after the southbound pickup truck he was driving crossed the center line on U.S. Highway 71 just north of Brayton and struck a sport utility vehicle, Ware's lone passenger, Mark Piearson, 31, of Leon, testified in Audubon District Court Wednesday afternoon.
The crash killed 17-year-old Kristopher George Crawley of Audubon.
Ware is charged with vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle, which are felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted.
Trapped in the fused metal carcasses of the two vehicles, unable to move his legs, with a fire having raged and flamed out near his engine, Ware allegedly asked Piearson to remove a Gatorade bottle with vodka from behind the driver's seat before authorities and emergency personnel arrived, Piearson said.
Having earlier testified that vodka and Gatorade appeared to be Ware's "drink of choice," Piearson, who refused to toss the potential evidence from the scene, said he saw Ware consuming a bottle of Gatorade after the crash.
Ware's attorney, Joey Hoover of Winterset, is arguing that his client was drunk after the crash, not before. Piearson said he didn't know the contents of the Gatorade bottle or how much of it Ware consumed.
A blood test revealed that Ware, of Lineville, had a blood-alcohol concentration of .205 percent - which is more than twice the legal limit to drive in Iowa - on the night of the Oct. 19, 2011 crash.
The crash occurred about 11:25 p.m. on a bend in the highway just north of Brayton.
Ware also failed initial alcohol breath tests at Cass County Memorial Hospital in Atlantic where he had been taken for treatment for unspecified injuries, said Cass County Sheriff's Deputy Benjamin Bartholomew.
When Piearson learned of Crawley's death he informed Ware, who was still in the vehicle.
"I told him that, and Kendall said something about going to prison," Piearson said.
In an interview outside of the courthouse, Piearson said he didn't know why Ware consumed the alcohol following the accident.
The driver of Crawley's vehicle, Jason Rattenborg, 22, of Audubon, suffered a collapsed lung, severe injuries to the chest and a bruised liver, said his physician, Dr. James Cunningham of Aububon.
Cunningham, a veteran emergency-room doctor at Audubon County Memorial Hospital, said medical records show no alcohol was detected in Rattenborg's system at 2:35 a.m. the morning after the crash. Medical professionals screened Rattenborg for alcohol and other substances at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, where he had been transported by air ambulance from Audubon.
Audubon County Attorney Francine Andersen said Crawley and Rattenborg went on a late-night run from Audubon to McDonald's in Atlantic and were in the last car to make it into the drive-thru before the fast-food restaurant closed.
Two state patrol troopers who investigated the crash said evidence shows that Ware was taking the curve at a speed of between 78 and 84 mph - and that they could find no improper actions on the part of Rattenborg, who steered evasively in a failed attempt to avoid the wreck.
"He (Ware) caused the collision that resulted in Mr. Crawley's death," said Trooper Tiege Melby of the Iowa State Patrol.
Rattenborg, surrounded by family, wiped away tears as a battery of law-enforcement officials told the court he bore no fault in the incident.
Piearson said the crash happened at the end of a long day of field work for Handlos Harvesting Shop of Audubon. Piearson said he and Ware hauled soybeans from fields in the Audubon and Atlantic area to a nearby grain elevator. They started the day at 7 a.m. and finished at nightfall, he said. They then showered in the facilities at the Handlos shop and enjoyed pizza and a few beers, Piearson said.
Piearson, who described Ware as a co-worker, not someone he knew personally, said he didn't know how much food or alcohol Ware consumed at the shop.
Piearson said he noticed an empty bottle of vodka in the shower area wastebasket after Ware had showered - trash he hadn't seen before Ware entered. Piearson said he never saw Ware discard the bottle or consume any of its contents, but he said Ware's demeanor changed after the shower, that he seemed more "hyper" and "fidgety."
The two men decided to head back to fields south of Audubon to apparently retrieve a vehicle. Additionally, Piearson said, Ware wanted to reconnect with a woman he met at an undisclosed bar south of Atlantic several days before.
"I asked him if he was OK to drive and he said 'Yes,'" Piearson said, adding that his concern was not alcohol, but exhaustion from the grueling harvest-season day.
Piearson quickly fell asleep in the truck.
"When I woke up we are coming around a corner into the middle the road," Piearson said.
Seconds later, the vehicles collided and spun 180 degrees, Piearson said.
"I felt my floorboard come up," he said.
Piearson, who said he suffered bruises and lacerations and stayed one night for observation in the Audubon hospital, escaped the vehicle through the passenger window and made the initial 911 call, mistakenly thinking the accident was near Hamlin. A passing Farner-Bocken driver, Clyde Weitl of Templeton, gave authorities the correct location moments later in a call from Brayton.
Blood tests often take weeks to complete, and Ware apparently left Iowa before he could be arrested for the alleged crimes. The initial felony charges were filed in June 2012, about eight months after the crash.
U.S. Marshals Service officers arrested Ware in Minot, N.D., a city of about 42,000 in the northern part of that state.
A lawsuit filed by Rattenborg and Crawley's parents against Ware and his employer, Handlos Harvesting, claims that Ware was working at the time of the crash, and that Handlos Harvesting allows its employees to drink alcohol while at work. Handlos Harvesting denied the allegations in court records.
Piearson said Ware had an alcohol incident in the days leading up to the accident.
"He got in trouble about two weeks before that for having vodka in his semi," Piearson said.
Piearson, who faced no criminal charges in the episode and served as a prosecution witness, said Handlos fired him the day after the accident.
Testimony in Ware's criminal trial is expected to wrap up today, sending the matter to the jury.
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