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Man charged in fatal crash gets 10 years

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Manslaughter charge amended down from murder

By Lisa King

A man who has been incarcerated in Shelby on murder charges for more than a year was formally sentenced in Shelby Circuit Court Monday on vehicular manslaughter and related charges.

Miroslav Kuzmanovic, 24, of Washington state, listened stoically as Shelby Circuit Judge Charles Hickman handed down a 10-year sentence in accordance with a plea agreement that Kuzmanovic had made with prosecutors just hours before a jury was to be selected for his trial in June for the murder of Doris Wise.

Kuzmanovic pleaded guilty in June to second-degree manslaughter in the death of Wise, 71, of Louisville, who was killed in May 2015 when Kuzmanovic, who was driving a tractor-trailer, struck her 2006 Chevy in the rear.

The deadly accident happened on I-64 near Exit 35 when Kuzmanovic’s tractor-trailer struck Wise’s car, knocking her vehicle into the median where it burst into flames upon impact – she died at the scene.

The accident involved a total of five vehicles.

Traffic had started to slow down on the interstate due to a motorist assist, and Kuzmanovic, who was distracted, failed to slow, striking Wise’s car in the rear. The impact started a chain reaction with four cars. Three other people received minor injures.

Kuzmanovic, who was living in Washington at the time, was initially charged with reckless homicide, but in July 2015, a Shelby County Grand Jury bumped those charges up, indicting him with murder, three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, a communication device violation, and operating a commercial vehicle while using a hand-held mobile phone.

Second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of 10 years, plus 2 years for the wanton endangerment, but the total 12-year sentence will consist of only 10 years, because Kuzmanovic will serve the terms concurrently.

Though less serious than murder – with penalties ranging from 20 years to death – manslaughter carries more prison time than reckless homicide, as it is Class C felony, with a term of 5 to 10 years, compared to 1 to 5 years for reckless homicide.

The charge concerning the phone is only a violation.

Kuzmanovic’s attorney, Rob Eggert of Louisville, is expected to turn his attention to shock probation efforts, which will be available to Kuzmanovic six months after his sentencing.

Shock probation is open to anyone who has no prior criminal record, with the premise being that the shock of incarceration will be a deterrent to further criminal activity.

Some of Wise’s family members attended the sentencing Monday, and her son, Steve Wise, read a brief victims’ impact statement to the court that the tragedy is an example of why people should not text while driving.

Prosecutors have not said, however, in what capacity Kuzmanovic was using his phone while driving the tractor-trailer.

Family members declined to talk to the media, upon the advice of Eggert, because of a pending lawsuit filed July 8 in Shelby Circuit Court, naming Kuzmanovic, Red Star Expedite, Inc., Monte-Flo Logistics, Inc, Coyote Logistics, LLC, and State Auto Insurance Companies.

The suit alleges gross negligence, stating that Kuzmanovic engaged in careless, negligent, grossly negligent, and wanton and dangerous conduct, with reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others and that his conduct was a substantial factor in causing the death of Wise and that the other parties, mostly trucking companies, were also at fault for employing a truck driver unfit for the job.

The suit asks for punitive and compensatory damage as well as court costs incurred by the plaintiff in addition to a trial by jury.

Kuzmanovic has not made a statement on his behalf and did not do so at the sentencing, but his co-council, Andrew Gailor had said at his last court appearance in June that he deeply regrets Wise’s death.