COLUMBIA — Although she was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, Kelli Smith, the woman who caused the crash that killed Thomas Sullivan in Montgomery County in 2012, wasn't let off the hook by the victim's family on Monday.

“After Tommy’s death, I wanted to know who Kelli Smith was,” said Jan Sullivan, the victim’s stepmother. She said she looked up Smith’s social media profile and saw many posts she felt reflected a “partying lifestyle." She said Smith's lifestyle was ultimately responsible for her step-son’s death.

“Tommy was killed by an intoxicated driver,” she said.

The crash occurred on Feb. 25, 2012, when Smith drove in the wrong direction on Interstate 70 and crashed into Sullivan's car, killing him. When emergency responders pulled her out of her wrecked car, she was naked from the waist down. After she was transported to University Hospital, a nurse noticed bruises she considered to be consistent with sexual assault.

Smith sustained a traumatic brain injury and has no memory of the hours leading up to the crash.

The cause of Smith's intoxication was very much central to the case her defense attorney, Jennifer Bukowsky, sought to present in her first trial that ended in her conviction for felony vehicular manslaughter and a sentence of five years in prison.

Bukowsky raised questions about the reliability of laboratory results used in Smith's first trial that showed her slightly over the legal limit for blood alcohol content. She also focused on investigators' lack of attention to evidence that Smith, who was 22 at the time, might have been given a "date rape" drug and sexually assaulted just before the crash.

Bukowsky appealed the jury's decision, and in December 2015, the Eastern District Court of the Missouri Court of Appeals granted her a new trial.

This time, the Montgomery County prosecutor pulled the plug on a trial that was set to begin next week. Smith accepted a plea agreement to misdemeanor careless and imprudent driving. She will be on probation for two years, during which she cannot buy, possess or drink alcohol. During those two years, she is required to do 120 hours of community service.

Bukowsky said the State’s willingness to come to a resolution came about following the deposition of the State’s expert witness, Christopher Long, who is a forensic toxicologist at the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Long indicated during last week's deposition that the blood sample previously used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol was a flawed sample and was not reliable, Bukowsky said. 

She said that Long felt he could no longer testify on behalf of the state.

“We were ready to proceed to retrial. We felt confident in our case,” she said. But at the end of the day, Bukowsky said, it was in Smith's best interest.

In his victim impact statement, David Warner, Sullivan’s brother, spoke about the long-term effects the crash had on Sullivan’s family. He said, from the perspective of Sullivan's children, Smith is not known as a victim — she is the person who killed their dad. He said he hopes that if she ever has children, they "remain untouched by loss."

Warner called Smith’s defense of being drugged and assaulted as “far-fetched excuses.”

Angie Warner, wife of David Warner and Thomas Sullivan’s sister-in-law, asserted that the evidence of a sexual assault was insufficient, and referenced her experience as a women’s health nurse practitioner.

“A misdemeanor charge for killing someone is really hard to swallow,” said Angie Warner.

“It really seems to cheapen Tommy’s life,” David Warner said.

Supervising editors are Katherine Reed and Allison Colburn.

  • Assistant director of outreach, former assistant city editor and reporter. Reach me at trblatchford@mizzou.edu or on Twitter @blatchfordtr.

  • Miranda Moore is a state house reporter at the Missourian. She is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism who studies investigative and international reporting.

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