Family finds fault with investigation of son’s death

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:31 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Protesting what they say has been a shoddy investigation of a 7-year-old’s death, a handful of Patrick Knedler’s family and friends stood at the corner of Seventh and Walnut streets Monday with a single plea.

“All we want is to know why,” said Patrick’s mother, Stephanie Harding.

The boy was killed by a northbound car Sept. 10 at Scott Boulevard and Bethany Drive. His mother said Monday that she cannot understand why deputies at the scene did not administer a Breathalyzer test on the driver and why they allowed him to drive away after the incident. The family is frustrated that no charges were brought against the driver and that no one from the Boone County Sheriff’s Department had any contact with the family after Patrick was pronounced dead at University Hospital.

Sheriff Dwayne Carey said he extended his sympathy to the family but said the investigation was sufficient.

“Our hearts go out to them,” Carey said. “But the Sheriff’s Department did a completely thorough investigation.”

Harding and her husband, Ricky, have hired an attorney and plan to file a wrongful death suit against the driver, Leon Uftring, 27, of Columbia. Harding said the department will not return her or her attorney’s phone calls.

“That’s why we’re out here,” Harding said. “To get the community involved and let them know what’s going on. We have to reach out and ask questions so something will be done.”

Sherry Sanders, Patrick’s aunt, has written a letter to the department, asking why the investigation ended before the autopsy was finished.

Maj. Tom Reddin, chief deputy of the Sheriff’s Department, said the autopsy report is merely a medical documentation of the injuries and would not contribute much to the investigation. The cause of death was known, he said. Reddin said a Breathalyzer test is usually given only if the officers suspect the driver is intoxicated.

But Sanders said the circumstances of Patrick’s death warrant a closer look. Although Uftring told Deputy Scott Ewing he slowed down after seeing children playing near the street, Ewing’s report notes that there were no skid marks at the scene.

“How is it ... that (the driver) could not have seen Patrick cross the road with almost a mile stretch and nothing obscuring the road ahead?” Sanders asks in her letter. “How is it that a man can hit and kill a child and never be given a Breathalyzer ... especially on a (MU football) game day?”

Sanders said she thinks the makeup of the Hardings’ neighborhood affected the investigation.

“Anyone familiar with the area knows that it is not considered the best part of town and that minorities and lower income families live there,” Sanders wrote in her letter. “In a wealthier part of town ... this man would still be in jail or have a bond set at an unbelievable amount.”

The family said they will not give up their efforts until they feel justice has been served.

“We’ll keep protesting until answers are given and a real investigation is done,” Sanders said. “Patrick deserves that.”

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