CLAY CENTER — The driver of a semitrailer truck involved in a triple-fatality collision near Saronville Thursday has been arraigned on three charges of manslaughter in Clay County Court.
Kenneth B. Johnson, 53, of Eagle appeared before Judge Michael Burns for the morning arraignment Tuesday. Bond was set at $100,000, with a provision for 10 percent cash bail.
Johnson remained incarcerated in the Clay County Jail this morning. His next appearance in county court will be for a hearing at 11 a.m. Sept. 9.
Lawyer Michelle Oldham of Hastings was appointed to represent him as public defender.
According to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson was southbound on Nebraska Highway 14 early Thursday morning, hauling a load of sand. He reportedly ran through the stop sign at U.S. Highway 6 west of Saronville.
The truck collided in the intersection with an eastbound sport-utility vehicle driven by Hastings resident Gary Isom, 53. Isom apparently tried to avoid the collision but was unable to do so, and struck the semi tractor in the area of the passenger-side door at the south edge of U.S. 6. The impact caused the SUV to flip.
Isom and his wife, Susan, 52, died that morning. Daughter Tiffany, 26, and son Justin, 16, both were transported by air to Bryan Medical Center West in Lincoln with trauma injuries. The family said Tiffany died later that day.
Johnson, who wasn’t injured in the crash, was placed under arrest while Clay County Attorney Ted Griess weighed possible charges. Griess filed a complaint in county court Friday charging Johnson with two counts of manslaughter, then added a third count when the court reopened for business Tuesday.
In the complaint, Griess alleges that Johnson killed the Isoms “without malice either upon a sudden quarrel, or unintentionally while in the commission of an unlawful act.”
Manslaughter is a Class 3 felony punishable by 1-20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $25,000.
Gary Isom was a Detroit native. He worked at Hornady Manufacturing in Grand Island.
Susan grew up in central Nebraska, graduating from Shelton High School, and became a veterinary technician. She worked at Heartland Veterinary Supply and Pharmacy in Hastings.
Tiffany graduated from high school in Texas and then completed studies at Central Community College-Hastings earlier this year. She worked at Bernardo’s Steak House in Hastings and was finishing work on a bachelor’s degree through Bellevue University.
In addition to their regular jobs, Gary, Susan and Tiffany all were caregivers for Susan’s father, Clayton Burmood of Hastings.
Justin remained hospitalized Tuesday and is expected to recover from his injuries, family members told the Tribune.
The relatives said that at the time of the crash, the Isoms were just setting out on a Labor Day weekend trip to visit relatives in Texas. The junction of U.S. 6 and Highway 14 North is 22 miles east of Hastings.
In an interview Tuesday, Clay County Sheriff Jeff Franklin reflected on the fleeting nature of life. He noted how little traffic is on the road in the hours before dawn, and the odds of two vehicles arriving in the same place at the same time in that situation.
Franklin said he figures the collision took place near 5 a.m. The crash was reported to authorities about 5:15 after Johnson waved down a passing vehicle.
The sheriff said the impact of the crash had torn a saddle diesel tank off the truck. An environmental services firm was sent to the crash site to remediate the fuel spill.
A joint memorial service for Gary, Susan and Tiffany is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at North Shore Assembly of God in Hastings. DeWitt Funeral Home and Cremation Service of Hastings is handling arrangements.
A memorial fund is being established for Justin’s future care and education.