Mississippi patrol pays $500,000 in wreck that killed 1, hurt 2

Published 7:30 am Monday, June 18, 2018

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Highway Patrol is paying $500,000 in a lawsuit over a fatal wreck that happened when a state trooper was driving fast on a dark highway without his blue lights flashing.

The crash happened about 1:30 a.m. on May 7, 2017, killing Kaelin Kersh, 22, a Mississippi State University track athlete who had just graduated. She was a front-seat passenger in a Toyota Corolla that was struck by a patrol car on Highway 182 near Starkville.

A lawsuit was filed by Kersh’s survivors and two women who were in a car with her when it was struck by a patrol car. The suit says the trooper, Kyle Lee, was speeding.

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The driver of the Corolla, Noel Collier, 21, of Madison, and another passenger, Tanequa Alexander, 22, of Ridgeland, were hospitalized with injuries. They were also Mississippi State University students at the time, the school said.

Circuit Judge Lee Coleman ordered the Highway Patrol to put the $500,000 into a court account, the Starkville Daily News reported. The money was paid June 6 and will be divided among those who filed suit. The state tort claims act says $500,000 is the maximum amount a government entity would have to pay in a lawsuit.

“The state bowed out and tendered to the tort limit,” Trent Walker, an attorney representing the Kersh estate, told the Commercial Dispatch. “Now the next step will be to figure out who gets how much.”

Walker said the plaintiffs will try to agree on how to divide the money.

Shortly after the wreck, a Highway Patrol spokesman said the trooper was eastbound on Highway 182 when the Toyota Corolla entered the highway. The spokesman, Master Sgt. Criss Turnipseed, said the trooper — whose name was not released at the time — was on the way to verify a report of another vehicle leaving the highway when the crash happened.

There’s dispute about how fast Lee was driving when the crash occurred. Walker previously told the Commercial Dispatch that the accident report said Lee was traveling 68 mph in a 45 mph zone. However, Walker dash camera footage from Lee’s patrol car showed the trooper was going 100 mph when the crash happened.

Mississippi legislators this year passed, and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed, House Bill 1202, which requires emergency responders to turn on flashing lights when going more than 30 mph faster than the speed limit. It is called the Kaelin Kersh Act, and it becomes law July 1.