LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A driver who crashed his pickup truck into another vehicle on a state highway, killing a family of four, was not criminally negligent, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled.
In a decision issued Thursday, the court said there’s no evidence Benjamin Ward Ledwell was speeding, driving erratically, under the influence of alcohol or using a phone during the May 19, 2015, crash.
Ledwell, of Texarkanana, has said he was reaching for something on the floorboard of his truck when it collided with a minivan traveling in the opposite direction on Arkansas Highway 7, killing Cindy and Allen Rhein and their two children, Steven and Anthony Sprankle.
Last year, a Hot Spring County jury convicted Ledwell of four counts of negligent homicide and handed him a suspended sentence. Ledwell appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the judge in his case should have dismissed the charges.
The high court decided 4-3 to overturn Ledwell’s convictions, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Writing for the majority, Justice Rhonda Wood said Ledwell’s conduct did not amount to a “gross deviation” from the standard of care required of a driver.
However, Justice Shawn Womack disagreed and wrote in a dissenting opinion that Ledwell was driving erratically and that his convictions should be upheld.
“The facts establish that while negotiating a curve on a rural, two-lane highway, Ledwell leaned over to pick up something off the floorboard and swerved into the left land in violation of Arkansas traffic law,” Womack wrote.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge disagreed with the high court’s decision and endorsed the dissenting opinion, a spokeswoman said in a written statement.
Ledwell’s attorney did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment Thursday.