Franklin County

Harrodsburg man avoids jail in fatal crash, must tell of dangers of distracted driving

FRANKFORT — A Harrodsburg man will not serve jail time but must talk publicly about the dangers of distracted driving as part of his punishment for a reckless homicide that took the life of a 17-year-old girl, a judge ruled Friday.

Kevin R. Butler, 32, pleaded guilty earlier this year to reckless homicide after a fatal crash Jan. 8, 2011, at U.S. 127 and Green Wilson Road in Franklin County.

Butler was distracted by a cellphone when his sport utility vehicle ran a red light and hit a 1999 Toyota driven by Trista Shoemaker, Kentucky State Police said. Shoemaker died and her 15-year-old sister was injured.

During a hearing Friday, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate granted a "diversion" in which Butler will not have to serve the five-year-sentence for reckless homicide or the one-year sentence for fourth-degree assault for injuries to the passenger.

Instead, Butler must complete 250 hours of community service by speaking to schools and civic groups about the dangers of distracted driving, Wingate said.

In addition, Butler must cooperate in the making of public service announcements that warn against distracted driving, Wingate said.

Butler also must pay $500 to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, which pays for certain allowable expenses — such as medical expenses or mental health counseling — related to crime. Wingate increased the payment from $200.

If Butler does not meet the requirements of the diversion during the next five years, Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Cleveland could ask the judge to revoke it and sentence Butler to the full prison term.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2009 nearly 5,500 people were killed — nearly 450,000 more were injured — in distracted-driving crashes.

In a personal note, Win gate noted that his daughter played on the Western Hills High School volleyball team with Trista Shoemaker.

Wingate said he didn't know Shoemaker. But he told Butler, "I don't know if I've ever seen my daughter cry like that" upon receiving word of Shoemaker's death. "It was very, very traumatic."

Butler's defense attorney, J. Hadden Dean, said he and Butler met with the Shoemaker family before Friday's hearing.

"I think they have forgiven Kevin and made peace with what's happened," Dean said. "When they met Kevin, I think they accepted his apology. Everybody was very emotional, me included. Kevin will continue to be always sorry for what happened."