Special to the Grove Sun
MIAMI — A retired Missouri truck driver pleaded guilty Monday and was sentenced to a year of probation on each of 10 misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide in connection with an Interstate 44 pileup that killed 10 people, District Attorney Eddie Wyant said.
Donald Leroy Creed, 77, of Willard, Mo., also was ordered to serve 30 days in the Ottawa County Jail and be subject to electronic home monitoring.
Creed and his attorney, Paul Brunton, could not be reached for comment.
Creed was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident, nor was he speeding, Wyant said.
“Even though the families of the victims have decided to leave the sentencing up to the court, they understand the plea agreement which has been reached,” Wyant said.
Creed was driving a tractor-trailer rig that crashed into a line of vehicles near the Will Rogers Turnpike’s Miami exit on June 26, 2009. The vehicles were stopped because of an earlier accident, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers said.
Three cars were pinned beneath Creed’s rig. He told investigators that he didn’t know what happened and thought the cars had driven under his truck, according to an arrest warrant.
There were no skid marks on the highway, and no defects were found in the tractor-trailer rig, troopers said.
Witnesses said they never saw brake lights and that the truck changed lanes without signaling. The truck’s cruise-control indicated that Creed was traveling at 71 mph at the time of the crash, about 1 p.m.
The speed limit on the turnpike is 75 mph.
Creed, who had been driving since 3 a.m., had concluded a 22-minute cell phone call eight minutes earlier.
Wyant said he hopes the healing process will begin “for all of the friends and family members of the victims which were left behind to deal with the consequences of Mr. Creed’s actions.”
Synthia Tate, who survived the crash, said that “considering all the deaths and the children, he should have gotten a stiffer sentence.”
“He was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing that took his eyes off the road,” she said.
Drivers shouldn’t be on the road for long periods of time, she said, referring to Creed’s 10-hour driving stretch.
Tate and her two grandchildren, then 6-year-old Dylan and 5-year-old Aimee, were the only survivors pinned under the tractor-trailer rig, she said.
“There was diesel fuel pouring into my car,” Tate said. “I woke up and there was a man holding my hand. I told him, ‘Please don’t let me die.’ ”
The mixture of the heat combined with the diesel fumes was sickening, she said.
Cars overheated as a three-mile line of eastbound traffic stood still for nearly seven hours. The westbound lane was closed nearly two hours.
With temperatures rising off the asphalt at up to at 115 degrees, according to the Highway Patrol, rescuers worked for hours pulling bodies out of mangled metal.
Tate was pinned for four hours until a crane was brought in to lift the truck. She was hospitalized for 10 days with six broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a gash on her head, a collapsed left lung and other injuries, she said.
Tate filed a lawsuit against Creed, Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. and several insurance companies over the crash. She has received a partial settlement, but other aspects of the lawsuit still are ongoing, she said.
Another lawsuit was filed in Cleveland County District Court against Creed and others on behalf of the Hayes, Hooks and Reyes families. A trial in that case is set for Sept. 20.
Creed retired from the Kansas City-based Associated Wholesale Grocers shortly after the accident. As part of the plea agreement, he is prohibited from possessing a commercial driver’s license.
Lt. George Brown, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman, said the wreck was one of the worst traffic accidents ever recorded in state history.