What family members had waited 16 months to hear took seven minutes to be said on Friday.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
A Blue Springs man admitted being the drunken driver who barreled through an Independence accident scene and killed their loved one — a state highway assistance worker — in 2012.
David Murdick, a 36-year-old lawyer, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of Clifton Scott, a 50-year-old motorist-assist operator who worked the overnight shift.
Scott’s fiancee, Monique Banks, said after Friday’s hearing that she appreciated Murdick’s plea.
“I am glad that he decided to say that he was guilty,” said Banks, who sat in the courtroom gallery’s front row amid family members and friends, some holding hands, during the brief hearing.
“I hated that it took so long.”
Murdick said little while entering the plea in the packed courtroom at the Jackson County Courthouse Annex in Independence.
He admitted that his negligence had killed Scott, a 15-year Missouri Department of Transportation employee who was taking photographs of an earlier accident scene when Murdick sped through traffic cones and flares early Sept. 21, 2012, near the Lee’s Summit Road exit on Interstate 70.
Murdick assured Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jack Grate that he was clear-headed and understood what he was doing in pleading guilty.
During questioning by his lawyer, Dennis Waits, Murdick acknowledged that he faces five to 15 years in prison.
Grate set a March 7 sentencing date.
According to court records, witnesses described seeing Murdick’s 2007 Honda Accord headed east on I-70 at a high rate of speed about 3 a.m. as it approached the Lee’s Summit Road exit. Emergency workers had set up flares and cones to rout eastbound traffic off the interstate because of an earlier accident.
An Independence police officer and a second MoDOT employee yelled at Scott to warn him. But the Accord hit him so hard it knocked him several feet. The car then collided with a MoDOT truck, which burst into flames.
Scott died at the scene.
Prosecutors said Murdick was driving while intoxicated. Blood samples taken several hours later at a hospital registered a blood alcohol level of 0.184, more than twice the legal limit.
Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Traci Stansell asked Murdick on Friday if he understood that he had acted with criminal negligence.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
Later, Banks said she hoped Murdick “gets the max” for taking away the man she’d planned to marry.
“Every night at 7:30, I know it is time to wake him up and get him ready to go to work,” she said of Scott. “I still can’t believe he is gone.”
Scott had joined the state agency in 1997 as a maintenance crew worker. He was promoted to senior crew worker before joining motorist assist in August 2002. Motorist-assist operators respond to vehicular accidents and highway emergencies along with fire and law enforcement personnel.
The J.C. Harmon High School graduate received a MoDOT service award days before his death, which occurred four days shy of his 51st birthday.
In June, friends and family members participated in a ceremony renaming a section of road near 55th Terrace and Rinker Road, in Scott’s former southeast Kansas City neighborhood, Honorary Clifton J. Scott Place.
In September, friends and family members unveiled a highway sign bearing Scott’s name. State highway officials have designated a stretch of I-70 between Noland Road and Lee’s Summit Road in his memory. Friends collected about $2,500 to have two sign installed, said Chris Redline, an assistant MoDOT engineer in the department’s Kansas City district.
Redline, who also attended Friday’s hearing, declined to comment on Murdick’s guilty plea.
“I know Clifton would want me to use this opportunity to remind people to do the right thing when on the road,” Redline said. “Don’t drink and drive.”
Theresa Thompson, a neighbor who attended Friday’s hearing, recalled Scott’s various acts of kindness.
“One day when I needed to have my grass cut, he grabbed his son and they both cut my grass,” Thompson said.
“He was the man you went to when you needed any kind of help.”
Xavier Estell, Scott’s sister, said she wanted to wait until the March 7 hearing before speaking at length about justice in her brother’s death.
“The community as a whole must go through this,” she said.
Asked what family moments and events her uncle had missed in the 16 months since his death, Porsha Scott turned the question around.
“It’s more about what we have missed,” she said before listing the qualities that defined her uncle.
“Support. Action. Loyalty. Trust. We’ve all missed that.”
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.