What started as a normal day last September in a construction zone along U.S. Highway 59 ended in the deaths of two workers.Trial began Tuesday in Douglas County District Court for the woman prosecutors say should be held accountable.
"They were working in the safe lane where no traffic was allowed," Assistant District Attorney Eve Kemple told jurors during opening statements. "They weren't safe."
Kemple said Ramona Morgan, 49, sped through a two-mile construction zone, not once but twice, on Sept. 11, 2007, neither time following the pilot car.
Prosecutors say it was on the second pass that Morgan struck and killed 30-year-old Tyrone Korte of Seneca, an inspector with the Kansas Department of Transportation, and 24-year-old Rolland Griffith, of El Dorado, an employee of Dustrol Inc.
Morgan is standing trial on charges of reckless second-degree murder for their deaths. She also faces one count of aggravated battery, accused of injuring a third construction worker as he dove out of the way.
"She continued to accelerate into a group of six men," Kemple told jurors. "You'll hear from some of those men who were barely able to get out of the way."
Construction foreman Rollin Jensen testified that the dark-colored truck came within a couple of feet of hitting him the first time through the construction zone near Pleasant Grove, south of Lawrence. He jumped out of the way behind a piece of equipment.
When he saw the truck coming back through the area his crew was repaving roughly 45 minutes later, he tried to yell out a warning but the machinery used to repave the road was too loud.
"I yelled as loud as I could to get out of the way," Jensen testified. "That vehicle came on through that lane, struck two people in the back and seemed to actually accelerate. I never saw a brake light."
But defense attorney Billy Rork told jurors that Morgan never knew she hit either of the workers.
"She did not think she struck any people," Rork said during his opening statements. "She didn't think she struck anything but two orange barrels."
Rork told jurors that Morgan also insists she drove through the construction zone only once and that she was being chased at the time by a group of people that had been following her for two days.
Rork said Morgan and her daughter, Sabrina, had called 911 the day before the fatal accident, claiming people were chasing them and shooting at them.
The two had driven from Washington state to Missouri to buy some property and Rork said Morgan was carrying $125,000 in cash.
"It's a tragedy," Rork said, "but what you have to decide is, was a crime committed?"
Testimony in the case resumes Wednesday morning.