Man who caused fatal Christmas Eve crash was driving on a suspended license

jkegley@herald-leader.comDecember 27, 2012 

The driver who caused a wreck in Knox County that killed five people on Christmas Eve was on parole for a felony conviction, and he should not have been driving because his license was suspended, officials said.

David F. Vanderpool, 31, of Williamsburg, who died in the wreck along with four members of one family, had a history of disregarding traffic laws, dodging fines and court hearings and ignoring penalties intended to keep him off the road.

Following an arrest in Lincoln County on Dec. 5 for driving on a suspended license and other traffic charges, Vanderpool's license was suspended for an additional six months, said Lisa Tolliver, public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

That suspension was in effect Dec. 24 when Vanderpool's car crossed the median on U.S. 25 East near Flat Lick and hit a car carrying a family on their way to celebrate Christmas.

Gary Caldwell, 61; his wife, Patricia Caldwell, 58; their daughter Julia Caldwell Robinson, 29; and Julia's husband, Brent Robinson, 30, all were pronounced dead at the scene along with Vanderpool. The Caldwells, who lived in Harlan County, were on their way home after picking up their daughter and son-in-law. Julia and Brent Robinson lived in Bradenton, Fla., and had flown to Lexington.

Before the Dec. 5 arrest in Lincoln County, Vanderpool's license had been suspended for failure to answer a court summons on Nov. 12, 2011, in Whitley County, where he lived, according to court documents.

Whitley County Commonwealth's Attorney Alan Trimble said the court summons was for another, earlier citation for no operator's license and no insurance.

"It's infuriating. It's infuriating that a family of four law-abiding citizens ... were basically slaughtered at the hands of a man who had no regard for basic law," said Shannon Doan, a neighbor of the Caldwells and a former Harlan County prosecutor.

"After this was at least the third time he was in court for operating on a suspended license and they allowed him to walk out the door, they might as well have handed him a loaded weapon," Doan said.

Vanderpool had a lengthy criminal history in multiple counties, officials said.

Since 2007, he was convicted of at least 10 crimes, including theft charges in Knox, Laurel and Madison Counties. In Whitley County, he had been convicted of assault, resisting arrest, possession of burglary tools, giving an officer a false name and driving without a license in his possession, Trimble said.

Most of Vanderpool's recent charges were misdemeanors, but at the time of the wreck, he was on parole after serving less than a year of a five-year sentence for a felony.

On June 4, Vanderpool was sentenced in Whitley County to five years after pleading guilty to receiving stolen property, a class D felony, Trimble said. He was paroled Aug. 30, said Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

"He would have been on supervised parole until May of 2015," Trimble said.

In Kentucky, class D felons are eligible for parole after serving 15 percent of their sentences, Lamb said. Vanderpool was given credit for 185 days he spent in jail before his conviction and sentencing June 4.

His time in jail on the receiving stolen property charge totaled about 265 days. Doan noted he would have spent more time in jail if he had been convicted of being a persistent felony offender, a charge that was dropped when he pleaded guilty.

"Time and time again, and he continued to break the law, and no one held him accountable for that," Doan said.

Police had been looking for Vanderpool's car before the crash after receiving reports of an impaired driver. Authorities are awaiting toxicology tests for both drivers.

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

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