Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 24, 2013
The driver of a semi that struck and killed local state Trooper Kyle Deatherage faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted on charges issued Tuesday related to the November accident.
Johnny B. Felton Jr., 52, of Hinesville, Ga., was charged with reckless homicide and operating a commercial vehicle in Illinois without a license, according to a news release from Montgomery County State’s Attorney Christopher Matoush. Both are felony charges.
Felton was arrested at 6 a.m. Tuesday in Hinesville, Ga., to be transported to Illinois for arraignment, according to Illinois State Police Capt. James Morrisey.
Deatherage, of St. Jacob, was executing a traffic stop on Interstate 55 near Litchfield when he was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by Felton. Investigators believe Felton lost consciousness while driving, causing the accident, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The reckless homicide charge against Felton alleges he was going faster than conditions allowed, failed to change lanes or reduce speed after seeing the trooper’s vehicle with emergency lights activated, traveled across the fog line and struck Deatherage with a 2013 Volvo tractor-trailer while traveling northbound I-55 on Nov. 26.
He also faces a felony charge related to violating the limits of his Georgia license. Felton’s license only permitted commercial travel within Georgia.
If convicted of reckless homicide, Felton faces up to 14 years in prison. If convicted of the felony related to not having a license, he faces up to three years in prison. Bail is set at $250,000.
“No fine or jail time can begin to replace the courage and honor of this exceptional trooper, father and husband,” Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau said in a statement. “The men and women of the Illinois State Police will never forget Kyle’s unselfish sacrifice and his service to this agency and we will always honor his legacy.”
Deatherage is survived by his wife Sarah and two young children. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Felton and the trucking company he was working for, Dot Transportation Inc., or DTI, based in Mount Sterling.
Felton is still employed at DTI in a non-driver position, according to company spokeswoman Julia Bishop-Cross.
The company has fully cooperated with the authorities and is conducting its own internal investigation, according to a prepared statement from the company.
“It is DTI’s policy that no driver will drive for DTI unless he or she has a valid medical card and is in full compliance with the Federal Motor Safety Act,” according to the statement. “DTI was not informed of and unaware of any reason which would indicate this driver was unable to safely operate DTI’s truck. DTI cannot release information about the driver’s medical condition because of statutory restrictions and out of respect for the employee’s privacy.
“The driver in question is a 25-year veteran of the armed forces who rose to the rank of sergeant and commanded 80 troops. He was hired by DTI after an honorable discharge and had a clean driving record at the time of hire.”
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.