Former Lexington police officer charged with DUI, assault after pedestrian struck

jkegley@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2012 

Penny Bentley doesn't remember much about being hit by a car while walking on Lexington's Legacy Trail on Wednesday.

Before the crash, she recalls chatting about vacation plans with a friend and thinking about what she was going to have for dinner. After dinner, she said, she was going to watch an episode of ABC's 20/20, for which she had been interviewed about her friendship with murder victim Amanda Ross.

In the midst of talking, she never heard or saw the car approaching from behind. Lexington police said in a news release that former police officer Keith Todd was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he mistakenly got onto the trail, driving for at least a third of a mile.

"The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I remember feeling like something had just hit me in the face," Bentley said. "It was almost like I felt like I ran into something."

She dabbed at blood she thought was coming from her nose. It actually was from a deep gash on her head where she hit the windshield, and from cuts and scrapes all over her face. Bentley tried to stand up to see what happened, but her friend restrained her.

"She was like, 'No, you've just been hit by a car. Hold still, hold still, hold still,'" Bentley said.

It was the first time Bentley had ever been on the Legacy Trail, a path for bicyclists, walkers and joggers. Cars are not supposed to drive on the path.

Todd was charged Wednesday night with second-degree assault and driving under the influence. He pleaded not guilty Thursday.

A breath test showed Todd's blood-alcohol level was 0.084, according to a uniform citation filed in Fayette District Court. The state's legal driving limit is 0.08. According to a news release from police, drugs also were thought to have been a factor, but police did not elaborate.

Todd's brother Kevin Todd said he was dismayed to see news reports that indicated Keith Todd had a drinking problem. He said the family has never known the former officer to drive while drunk.

"I'm not sure if he had medical issues or what the deal is, but this is very unorthodox," said Kevin Todd. "We're puzzled by it."

Kevin Todd said the family was happy to hear that Bentley had been released from the hospital and was recovering.

At a news conference Thursday, police provided a few details about the case.

According to Lt. Chris Van Brackel, Todd told officers afterward that he did not know the road actually was a walking trail.

"He was heading home and he thought he was on a back road to New Circle Road," Van Brackel said.

Todd drove a white 2001 Mercedes onto the trail in North Lexington shortly before 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, police said. It was unclear where Todd got on the Legacy Trail, though several entrances near the scene of the crash are not blocked by barriers.

Todd's car hit Bentley and narrowly missed her friend, sending Bentley over the car's hood and bashing her head against the windshield.

Todd told police he was on his way home from Crittenden County, where he had been working that day, Van Brackel said.

The wreck was the second time alleged alcohol and drug use brought Todd to the attention of police. During an incident in 2006, when Todd was working as an officer, he was hospitalized for five days after he was found unconscious from consuming alcohol and Ambien sleeping pills, according to court documents.

Keith Todd was off duty and at home when that incident occurred. The city ordered him to undergo drug and alcohol testing and to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and counseling sessions as a condition of his continued employment.

That incident made headlines two years later, when the former officer filed two federal lawsuits against the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

The first suit claimed the city should have paid him to go to counseling sessions and AA meetings because they were required as part of his job. The second suit said the city retaliated against Todd by requiring him to urinate in front of a nurse during drug and alcohol tests, even though none of his prior urine tests showed any trace of alcohol or drugs or any evidence of tampering.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the city in the first lawsuit in December 2009 and dismissed the second one in August of last year.

Todd also made headlines in 2009 when he helped rescue an unconscious woman from a burning home. He broke his shoulder during that incident and retired in 2010, his brother said. He receives a disability pension from the city, said Tommy Puckett, a member of the city's Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Court records listed his current place of employment as Becker Law Office, a personal injury firm in Lexington. However, Kevin Renfro, managing partner of the law firm, said Todd was not an employee.

Becker Law Office occasionally hired Todd as an independent contractor to interview clients, take statements and take photos at wrecks and other injury scenes. Renfro said Todd's background as a police officer made him ideal for the job, but he said he would not hire Todd while the case is ongoing.

"We would not want someone with a speculative driving record doing anything for us," Renfro said.

After the crash, Todd was lodged at the Fayette County Detention Center on a $5,500 bond, according to court records. Todd declined to speak with reporters, a jail spokeswoman said.

Bentley was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in serious condition Wednesday. She was released about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. She spent most of the day sleeping at her mother's house, where she is recovering from a broken leg, a cracked vertebrae, a swollen hip and leg, and scratches and scrapes all over her body.

She hadn't yet watched the 20/20 special, called Revenge for Real, which aired at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Bentley was interviewed extensively about the relationship of former state lawmaker Steve Nunn and Amanda Ross. Last year, Nunn pleaded guilty to murder in Ross's 2009 death.

Bentley said she has trouble believing what happened.

"I was just flabbergasted. Here I thought I was on this fabulous new walking and biking trail Lexington put in," she said. "To be hit by a car, I just can't believe it."

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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