Charges filed in highway deaths
Two counts of reckless second-degree murder were filed Tuesday in Douglas County against Ramona Morgan in the Sept. 11 deaths of two highway workers.
Morgan, 48, also was charged with one count of reckless aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in the injury of a third highway worker.
District Attorney Charles Branson announced the charges in a news release Wednesday afternoon after Morgan was served with a warrant about the charges earlier in the day. He said he was not statutorily allowed to publicly release the charges until Morgan was served.
"After careful review of the investigation I have charged the most serious crimes the facts of the investigation will support," Branson said.
The charges stem from an incident on U.S. Highway 59 in Pleasant Grove when a pickup truck drove through a one-lane restricted work zone and struck and killed Rolland G. Griffith, 24, of El Dorado, and Tyrone T. Korte, 30, of Seneca. Injured was Curtis Delzell, also of El Dorado.
Griffith and Delzell were working for Dustrol Inc., of Towanda, a highway contracting firm. Korte worked for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Morgan and her daughter, Sabrina Morgan, were later arrested in Osage County following a police chase. They were found in a truck matching the description of a truck that hit the men. Authorities allege Ramona Morgan was the driver.
Sabrina Morgan, 26, will not be charged in Douglas County, Branson said. If additional evidence is discovered, charges still could be filed against her, but Branson said he doesn't expect that to happen.
Sabrina Morgan was to have a preliminary hearing in Osage County on Wednesday afternoon on a charge of aiding a felon stemming from the police chase. But Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones told Magistrate Jon Stephen Jones that he was dismissing the charge.
"We felt we had probable cause to charge her but after reviewing all of the evidence we didn't feel we had enough to prove it to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt," Jones said later outside court.
The felony charge of fleeing and attempting to elude police against Ramona Morgan in Osage County still stands. She also faces several misdemeanor traffic charges and is being held on $2 million bond in Osage County Jail.
Ramona Morgan has hired attorney Clinton Lee of Lansing to represent her, Brandon Jones said. She is supposed to appear in court Oct. 3. She will remain in Osage County until her case there is resolved, Branson said.
If Ramona Morgan is convicted of reckless second-degree murder she could be sentenced to a minimum of 109 months and up to a maximum of 493 months in prison on each count. The charge alleges the killing of a human being committed unintentionally but under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. The element of "intent" required by Kansas law for first-degree murder is not supported by the facts, Branson said.
Sabrina Morgan was smiling when she left the Osage County Courthouse after her charge was dismissed. But she declined to talk about the case against her mother or about what happened on U.S. 59.
"I'm just happy to be free," she said.
But Morgan's immediate future was in a state of limbo. She had been held in the Douglas County Jail. Her attorney, Greg Robinson, said she has not had access to her belongings because they were confiscated by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office as evidence. She especially needs access to her identification and money, he said.
Robinson said he doesn't believe Sabrina's belongings constitute evidence.
"She needs access to her money or otherwise we're going to have an indigent person on the street here very quickly," Robinson said, adding that he intended to make calls to Douglas County authorities Wednesday evening about the matter.
The case against Ramona Morgan was investigated by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Kansas Highway Patrol. Sheriff Ken McGovern said he was confident in that investigation. He said he appreciated the cooperation and patience of the community and offered a special thanks to people who came forward with information about the incident.