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Prison ordered for teen who caused fatal wreck while texting

Updated: 2013-07-04T03:56:10Z

By GLENN E. RICE

The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: An incorrect earlier version of this story appeared in The Kansas City Star on Wednesday and briefly online, indicating a sentence of four years. In court Wednesday morning, a judge issued a sentence of three and a half years.

Originally, Platte County authorities and the victim’s family wanted to show leniency to a teen who caused a fatal texting-while-driving traffic crash. Some felt she thumbed her nose at that by repeatedly violating her probation.

In response Wednesday, a judge sentenced Rachel N. Gannon, 17, of Kansas City, North, to three years and six months in prison.

Gannon pleaded guilty on May 31, 2012, to second-degree involuntary manslaughter, third-degree assault and violating the 2009 Missouri law that prohibits motorists 21 or younger from texting while driving.

Authorities said Gannon, then 16, was sending text messages, looking at her phone and listening to loud music when she lost control of her vehicle in September 2011.

Her vehicle slammed into a car driven by Loretta Larimer, a 72-year-old great-grandmother from Camden Point who had pulled off a Kansas City, North, road into grass in an attempt to avoid the out-of-control vehicle headed her way.

Gannon’s relatives cried as the sentence was announced Wednesday.

“This is devastating,” said her mother, Becky Tweeddale. “It wasn’t what I had hoped for. … We want her home.”

Gannon’s attorney, Mark Ferguson, had asked the court for leniency while describing his client as an immature teenager. Even the victim’s family felt bad about the teen’s return to court.

“This is a sad and tragic day,” said John Larimer, whose mother died in the wreck and whose family initially asked officials to be lenient with Gannon. “Here’s a young life that is damaged further. What was Judge (Abe) Shafer going to do? Rachel put him in a position where he had no room to work with.”

Outside the courthouse, Tweeddale spoke briefly with John Larimer and his brother. Tweeddale later said the families want to help launch a campaign that warns the public about the dangers of distracted driving.

Gannon was driving a neighbor’s Honda Pilot when the wreck happened the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2011, in the 12200 block of Northwest Skyview Road.

Larimer, who had to be cut out of her Nissan Altima, died at a hospital. Her granddaughter suffered a chipped arm bone, an injured neck and numerous bruises.

At the scene, Gannon told police she was looking at her phone when she lost control.

Gannon later pleaded guilty. Larimer’s family asked at the time that Gannon not be sentenced to prison. As a result, Shafer suspended Gannon’s sentence and placed her on five years probation. She was ordered to serve 48 hours of “shock time” in the county jail, find a job, serve 72 days of house arrest and perform 300 hours of community service.

But Gannon violated her probation. She had moved out of her parents’ home and into a residence with her boyfriend and quit her job, both without getting permission from her probation officer. Gannon also consumed alcohol at a party she threw with other teens while her parents were out of town.

In September, Shafer sentenced Gannon to a year in jail on the assault charge. Shafer allowed her to continue to attend high school and deferred sentencing on the felony.

Yet Gannon had failed to attend 31 of the tutorial sessions Shafer ordered. She was seen hanging out at a Dairy Queen after school, said Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd.

“The family of Loretta Larimer showed tremendous mercy and compassion asking me to see that she (Gannon) not go to prison for her crimes,” Zahnd said. “We tried to accomplish that, but unfortunately that mercy has been met with only repeated episodes of Ms. Gannon refusing to follow the dictates of the court.”

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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