A 23-year-old Lawrence man pleaded no contest Thursday to a misdemeanor for failing to report an all-terrain vehicle accident last October in which his friend died.
Pro-tem Judge James George sentenced Derek R. Cook to serve one year on probation and obey certain driving restrictions after Cook entered a no-contest plea during his first appearance on a charge of failure to give notice of an injury accident. Preston Scheibler, 21, of Lawrence, was found dead the morning of Oct. 8 in a field northeast of Baldwin City, near the intersection of North 500 and East 2300 roads.
Assistant District Attorney Greg Benefiel said in court that prosecutors had evidence Cook was driving the ATV and Scheibler was a passenger. The vehicle overturned between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., and Scheibler became trapped under the vehicle and later died. Benefiel also said authorities think Cook may have been knocked unconscious for an undetermined period of time. About four hours after the accident, friends of the pair went looking for them in the field, where they found Cook along with Scheibler’s body. Friends told officers later that Cook was despondent because of Scheibler’s death.
“Those friends had very serious concerns about Cook’s mental well-being at the time,” Benefiel said, so the friends took Cook from the crash scene before he could speak to officers, who arrived about 8 a.m.
Defense attorney Tom Bath said Cook and Scheibler had consumed alcohol before the accident.
“My client frankly understands that this responsibly should have been reported to law enforcement,” Bath said.
Both sides said Douglas County Sheriff’s investigators spent months looking into circumstances surrounding the crash, but Benefiel said officers could not determine the exact cause of the accident.
“Part of the reason for that is there were mechanical issues with the ATV that could have very likely caused the crash itself,” he said.
Prosecutors indicated Scheibler’s parents did not want them to pursue any charges against Cook.
“Although the case could have been charged more seriously, we felt that there was a public policy issue that there needed to be some accountability,” Benefiel said. “But we did listen to the family.”
Scheibler’s father, Ty Scheibler, attended Thursday’s hearing and sat with Cook’s family members.
Cook faces 30 days in jail if he’s found to violate terms of his probation. He must obtain an alcohol and drug evaluation and obey any treatment recommendations. Cook is restricted to driving to and from work, any probation appointments, recommended treatment, the grocery store and any medical emergencies. George also ordered Cook to pay $98 in court costs and a $100 fine.