Drunken driver is sentenced to nine years in MoDOT worker’s death

03/07/2014 9:57 PM

03/07/2014 9:57 PM

Everybody agreed Friday that David Murdick had made a stupid choice to drive drunk.

And the fact he killed someone, a judge decided, called for a nine-year prison term.

Murdick, a Blue Springs lawyer, had pleaded guilty in January to involuntary manslaughter in the 2012 death of Clifton Scott, a motorist assist operator working an accident scene on Interstate 70.

“I can’t take back what I did,” Murdick testified Friday, his voice cracking as he spoke to a courtroom audience that included members of his family and Scott’s. “I can’t express how sorrowful I am for what I did, and I apologize.”

Murdick had faced five to 15 years in prison. Jackson County Circuit Judge Jack Grate announced his sentencing decision at an 80-minute hearing at the Jackson County Courthouse Annex in Independence.

In January, Murdick, 36, admitted that his negligence had killed Scott, a 15-year Missouri Department of Transportation employee. Scott had been taking photographs of an earlier accident scene when Murdick sped through traffic cones and flares early Sept. 21, 2012, in Independence.

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.

Murdick’s brother, uncle and wife were among those who vouched for his character Friday.

They described him as a straight arrow who met his future wife while working at a fast-food restaurant, who had deployed overseas five times during a 10-year Air Force career and who, after graduating from law school, chose to practice bankruptcy law to help people struggling with debt.

“This is the most out-of-character thing he has ever done,” said brother Michael Murdick, who added that “peer pressure” caused his brother to drink too much that night.

“David is a good man,” he said. “He just made the ultimate stupid mistake.”

Valerie Murdick said her husband has shown genuine remorse, adding: “He has told me that he wishes that he was the one who died.”

Michael Whitehead, an uncle, described Murdick as a responsible person who made “a horrible mistake in judgment.” All asked that Grate consider some probation option for Murdick to spare his three young children the devastation of a long incarceration.

Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Traci Stansell asked for the maximum sentence. She described how Scott’s son never would see his father again “because of the stupid choice that David Murdick made.”

Stansell criticized the answer Murdick gave investigators, saying he hadn’t had anyone else to call to give him a ride home that night.

“Clearly that’s not true,” Stansell said. “How about a $60 cab ride?”

Scott’s family members and friends expressed relief and gratitude that Murdick received prison time.

“I’m glad I did not hear probation,” said Monique Banks, who had been engaged to marry Scott. “If I had heard probation, I think I would have fainted.”

Scott’s son said he appreciated Murdick’s apology.

“I thought it was very sincere, and I accepted it,” said Clifton Scott Jr., 15.

Scott 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.

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.

Chris Redline, assistant engineer in the transportation department’s Kansas City district, detailed Friday how colleagues responded to news of Scott’s death.

“They appeared almost comatose,” Redline said. “Some questioned their career choice. Some needed grief counselors.

“It is ironic that Clifton died trying to ensure Mr. Murdick’s safety.”

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