Truck driver in Kansas Turnpike crash that killed 5 people denied early release from jail

A 63-year-old truck driver convicted of causing a 2017 fiery crash on the Kansas Turnpike that killed five people will not be released early from jail, according to the Leavenworth County attorney.

A Leavenworth County judge on Friday denied the request to release Kenny B. Ford of Greeley, Colorado, from jail, said Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson.

Ford pleaded no contest in January 2020 and was found guilty of five counts of vehicular homicide, which in Kansas is a misdemeanor charge. The following August, he was sentenced to serve the maximum penalty of one year confinement for each count, with the sentences to run consecutively.

Ford’s attorney, Benjamin Casad, could not be reached for comment Monday.

On July 11, 2017, Ford was hauling a load for Colorado-based Indian Creek Express when he failed to notice a traffic backup due to road construction in the westbound lanes of Interstate 70 near 174th Street near Bonner Springs.

His Freightliner semi rammed into an SUV driven by 61-year-old Teresa J. Butler of Urbana, Illinois, causing it to spin into a retaining wall, killing her and passenger Karen Lynn Kennedy, 63, of New Palestine, Illinois.

Ford’s truck then crashed into a car driven by 83-year-old Sheldon Cohen of Topeka. He and his 79-year-old wife, Virginia Cohen, died when their car hit a guardrail and ended up in a ditch.

The semi then collided with another car, pushing it underneath another semi, which caught fire. The car’s driver, Ricardo Mireles, 38, of Topeka, was killed.

Many of the family members either wrote letters or appeared in court to argue that Ford should not be released, Thompson said.

In a court filing last month, Ford’s attorney argued that Ford had already served a significant period — in excess of four years — and that the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office was not allowing work release.

“It is in the interest of justice that the defendant’s (Ford’s) sentence be terminated at this time,” Casad argued in the filing. At his sentencing in 2020, Casad said Ford was not impaired by drugs or alcohol.

The county attorney’s office opposed the early release, arguing in court documents that Ford has only served his sentence for three of the victims but still has time remaining on two others. His sentence of five years will be completed in August 2025.

The county attorney’s office also said that because Ford’s job was as a truck driver, there was not a job he could be released to do.

“This was a horrific incident and he received the maximum sentence we could get,” Thompson said in a statement. “Yet, these family members have it worse, they will never get their loved ones back.”

Thompson said driving is a “great responsibility” and a privilege that should not be taken for granted, especially when driving a semi. Any errors could kill others and damage other vehicles.