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Archive for Saturday, July 21, 2001

Husband, family forgive driver in fatal crash

Probation ordered in wreck that killed toll-booth worker

July 21, 2001

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— The husband of a woman who was killed when a truck driver smashed into her toll booth said he would like the man to know her family has forgiven him.

Jarrel Wood, of Belle Plaine, said his faith requires him to forgive Neal Johnson, 46, of St. Peter, Minn., in the death of his wife, Eva "Pat" Wood.

"The Lord says you've got to forgive and move on, and that's just the way I feel, that I can't just sit here forever and be bitter," Wood said Thursday after Johnson was sentenced to three years probation for involuntary manslaughter.

Johnson said he fell asleep at the wheel of his tractor-trailer before it barreled into the Lane 5 booth on the Kansas Turnpike's Southern Terminal Toll Plaza on Oct. 16. Mrs. Wood, 58, was killed instantly.

The Sumner County District Attorney's office said Johnson was sentenced to 32 months in prison but granted probation for three years.

Wood said he wanted to talk to Johnson sometime before he was released from jail, to let him know the family did not harbor any animosity toward him.

"I would just like to visit with him and let him know what kind of a lady my wife was," Wood said. "It might do us both good."

As part of his probation, Johnson was required to serve 60 days in Sumner County jail. He began the jail sentence after pleading guilty to the charges June 15.

Wood said he thought the judge could have given Johnson "a little more time" but that the family agreed to the plea bargain.

"It doesn't seem like a lot for taking a person's life, but he could serve the rest of his life in jail that's not going to bring her back," he said.

Other conditions of Johnson's probation include community service, paying restitution to Wood's family, therapy, staying on his prescribed medications, completion of a driver's safety course and not driving a commercial vehicle.

Johnson's lawyer, Les Hulnick of Wichita, said Johnson has suffered from clinical depression since the accident.

Johnson apologized to Wood's family in court.

"He said that he was profoundly sorry, that if he had it to do all over again that it wouldn't have happened, that it was a tragic mistake," Hulnick said.

Hulnick said there were no drugs or alcohol involved and that he thought the judge was right to sentence Johnson to probation.

"He did something we've all done, which is fall asleep at the wheel," Hulnick said. "Unfortunately, he took out the tollbooth and killed a very nice lady."

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