Archive for Thursday, July 15, 1999


July 15, 1999


A Douglas County judge found a Shawnee man guilty of vehicular homicide in an Aug. 4 crash that killed the man's friend.

A Shawnee man faces up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine after a District Court judge found him guilty of vehicular homicide in an accident last summer near Lawrence.

In a decision made public Wednesday, Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild found Landon D. McKinnis, Shawnee, guilty in the death of Larry Williams in the Aug. 4 accident on Kansas Highway 10 near the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

Defense attorney David Berkowitz had argued that Williams, a passenger in McKinnis' car, probably wouldn't have died if he had been wearing his seat belt.

But in his ruling, Fairchild said McKinnis, 21, "had been driving in an erratic manner, tailgating vehicles, swerving in and out of traffic, exceeding the speed limit and slowing to a speed below that maintained by the flow of traffic."

The judge also noted that McKinnis had consumed both alcohol and marijuana before and during the drive from the Kansas City area to Lawrence.

Williams, a 23-year-old Overland Park resident and a friend of McKinnis', died in the crash after McKinnis blacked out. Steven Clark, the front-seat passenger and Williams' brother, grabbed the steering wheel but overcompensated. The vehicle flipped and rolled.

Berkowitz said he plans to file a motion to reconsider Fairchild's decision.

During McKinnis' bench trial late last month, Berkowitz asked Dr. Michael Handler if Williams would have sustained injuries if he had been wearing a seat belt.

"There is a high likelihood he would have sustained some injuries but likely not the severe head trauma he experienced," Handler responded.

"We thought we had a good defense and are disappointed," Berkowitz said Wednesday. "Whatever my client did didn't amount to anything more than simple negligence. Not wearing his seat belt was an intervening cause of death."

Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Jerry Little, who prosecuted the case, disagrees.

"The seat belt wasn't the cause of Mr. Williams' death. It was the action of the defendant, and that's been the state's position all along," he said.

Fairchild set sentencing for Aug. 16. McKinnis is free on $7,500 bond.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is

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