A Lynden man who confessed to a May 13, 2017 hit-and-run crash that killed a man walking on a rural road near Birch Bay was sentenced to two days in jail Friday.
Joshua Karl Reynolds was walking east in the 3900 block of Birch Bay-Lynden Road when he was struck in the head by the passenger side mirror of a westbound pickup. An autopsy revealed Reynolds was facing the vehicle at the time of the incident and was knocked unconscious on impact.
A passerby found Reynolds’ body two days later on May 15 in a deep ditch off the westbound shoulder, beside broken pieces of a side mirror. Reynolds was 33.
Kenneth Lee Kelly, 38, called 911 from a store in Burlington May 16 to say he had hit the man near Birch Bay. Kelly was originally charged with hit-and-run (fatality), a felony.
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Over the course of the last several months, Kelly’s case was dropped down from Whatcom County Superior Court to District Court and Kelly was offered a plea deal.
Kelly pleaded guilty to reckless driving, a gross misdemeanor, in District Court Friday afternoon. He was sentenced to two days in jail and 362 days suspended, with credit for time served.
He must complete two years of active probation, a substance abuse evaluation and treatment and comply with Department of Licensing suspension requirements. Kelly is also required to pay $5,750 for burial expenses for the man he hit.
Throughout the investigation, Kelly said he didn’t know he had hit a person. He told authorities he thought he might have hit a mailbox or a sign, and circled back to check, but couldn’t confirm what he’d hit and continued to his destination.
Prosecuting attorney Erik Sigmar said the investigation, as well as follow-up statements from witnesses, corroborated Kelly’s statement. Part of the investigation included a Washington State Patrol trooper standing on the side of the road at a similar hour of day in similar clothing, while another vehicle similar to Kelly’s driven by a second trooper passed by. Sigmar said from the vehicle it was nearly impossible to see a pedestrian on the side of the road.
Sigmar said the case for the felony charge was weak, and if Kelly had been taken to trial and acquitted, they “would have been left with nothing.”
“On the other hand, for reckless driving, it was beyond dispute that he caused the loss of human life. He caused this death,” Sigmar said.
Sigmar also acknowledged the lack of probationary supervision and intervention services available in Superior Court, as compared to those in District Court.
“To me, this was the appropriate level of compromise and probably a necessary compromise,” Sigmar said.
Kelly's defense attorney, Stephen Jackson, said he felt this was the best course of action.
"I think all sides came together and just determined that this was an accident," Jackson said.
Jackson said in many cases accidents aren't criminal actions, but a strict adherence to the law meant Kelly should have stayed. He said Kelly did go back to look, but after not finding anything continued on his way, and after hearing of Reynolds' death, Kelly turned himself in.
"It was a very tough situation to be put in as a lawyer and in Kelly's shoes. ... This has been an incident where the light of the implications are not lost on him," Jackson said. "He was looking at years in prison for what we think was an accident, and I think this is a good result."
Kelly’s license was suspended at the time of the crash, and records show Kelly was convicted of driving with a suspended license at least five other times in the past 10 years. He also served a 16-month prison sentence for dealing heroin in 2014.