Hit-and-run ‘something I’ll never forget’

Witnesses recall highway workers' deaths

Ramona Morgan sits during her preliminary hearing Monday in Douglas County District Court. Morgan, 48, is charged with two counts of reckless second-degree murder in the deaths of two highway workers.

A speeding pickup truck twice drove through a restricted highway construction zone south of Lawrence the day two workers were killed last year, according to testimony on Monday in Douglas County District Court.

It was during the second drive through on Sept. 11, 2007, that the deaths occurred near Pleasant Grove, witnesses said.

“I yelled, ‘Get out of the way.’ They didn’t hear me,” said Rollin Jensen, a supervisor for Dustrol Inc., a Towanda firm hired by the state last year to repave U.S Highway 59.

“I just prayed that they’d move,” said Jeremy Mitchell, a heavy equipment operator for Dustrol.

Jensen, Mitchell and others took the witness stand Monday during a preliminary hearing for Ramona Morgan, a former Washington state woman charged with striking the workers with her truck. She faces two counts of reckless second-degree murder and one count of reckless aggravated battery for the injury of a third worker.

The truck drove by a flagger and was headed north on the highway during the first drive through, workers at the scene said. Jensen said he motioned for the truck to slow down and then he had to jump behind some equipment to keep from being hit.

“They just kept going; didn’t even hit a brake light,” Jensen said.

Jensen said he also threw a plastic cup full of coffee at the truck as it passed within a few feet of him.

“I got a little upset,” he said.

About an hour later the truck drove through the area again, this time headed south, witnesses said. Some of the witnesses said the truck was occupied by two women. Speaking through a Spanish translator, Dustrol employee Oscar Anaya-Bautista identified the driver as Morgan, who was in the courtroom during the hearing.

Killed at the scene were Rolland G. Griffith, 24, El Dorado, also a Dustrol employee, and Tyrone T. Korte, 30, Seneca, who worked for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Dustrol employee Curtis Delzell said he was struck on the left leg by the truck as he jumped out of its way seconds before Korte and Griffith were hit. He said he “abandoned” a remote control device he was using to operate machinery and the device shattered the truck’s front windshield.

Delzell said he looked down the highway and “saw something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”

An investigation revealed that the truck accelerated from 33 mph to 47 mph seconds before the workers were hit and killed, said Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Kristian Keberlein.

Morgan was arrested after leading another Kansas Highway Patrol trooper on a car chase in Osage County. Morgan’s 26-year-old daughter, Sabrina, who was in the truck with her, was not charged.

Morgan’s Topeka attorney, Billy Rork, noted witnesses’ discrepancies in describing the truck and its occupants. He argued that evidence presented by assistant district attorneys Dave Melton and Eve Kemple did not raise the case to the level of second-degree murder. He cited past Kansas court cases that supported his arguments. Judge Paula Martin said she would review those cases and decide today whether Morgan will be tried on the murder charges.

Martin denied Rork’s request to lower Morgan’s $200,000 bond or allow her to be released on her own recognizance.