Stefanie Cope

Staff Writer

A wrongful death suit against Kaston Hudgins started at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Cherokee County Courthouse.

On July 16, 2009 Hudgins was allegedly involved in a high speed chase where he was driving at a high rate of speed with no headlights on and a blood alcohol level of .15. Hudgins’ 1997 Nissan allegedly struck the rear end of a 2005 Pontiac vibe driven by Teresa Kemp who had her daughter Taylor in the car as a passenger. The collision caused the Kemp vehicle to land on the driver side seriously injuring Teresa and killing Taylor. The accident happened at the Five south junction outside of Pittsburg Kansas. On July 22, Teresa Kemp later succumbed to her injuries and died in the hospital.

Hudgins has been charged with two counts of felony murder and is awaiting trial.

Kemp’s lawyers are asking for damages including medical expenses, punitive damages, economic costs, funeral expenses and other damages.

Hudgins’ attorney’s laid the blame at the feet of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department claiming had law enforcement not pursued Hudgins when he allegedly ran from a traffic stop, then they would not be in court now.

Pittsburg police officer Tommy Deets said in July of 2009 he was the police chief for the city of Weir. Deets said at 9:30 p.m. he was at home making himself something to eat when a call came through from Cherokee County dispatch that Deputy Dean Kidd had tried to stop Hudgins and when Hudgins ran from the stop which resulted in a high-speed pursuit. Deets said he assisted in the pursuit because Hudgins was driving at a high rate, dangerously passing cars, completely blacked out (lights off) and possibly coming at vehicles head on.

Deets said when he got to the intersection of Highway 103 and Highway 69 he turned off his lights and waited. When he saw traffic coming from behind him after a few seconds he turned his lights back on and kept the traffic from proceeding through the intersection. He said less than 30 seconds after the blacked out car drove by he followed and heard a 10-48 call coming over the radio, meaning there had been a vehicle accident. He said when he got there he found a small car lying on the driver’s side on the median. He said he reached through the window to try to get a response out of the young girl he could see, but the girl was unresponsive. He also said he had seen the second car in the northbound lane and it appeared it had rolled. He said he tried to pry open the windshield when he realized there was a second person in the vehicle but was unsuccessful. He said he could hear whimpering, but was unable to get to Teresa because the car was crushed around her.

Kansas Highway Patrol Master Trooper Orin Dougherty who has been with the Kansas Highway Patrol for 15 years said he has investigated many accidents, collisions and deaths and was in charge of the investigation. He said the left front part of the Nissan collided with the right rear end of the Vibe and that at speeds of 97 to 98 miles per hour there was no way for a Nissan to come to a full stop in 100 feet. He said Hudgins was driving with dangerous and blatant disregard for other drivers. He said when he questioned Hudgins he detected alcohol and that was when he ordered the blood test. He also said he detected no remorse from Hudgins or any sorrow for what he had done and that Hudgins was not helpful when answering questions. Dougherty said he had no criticisms of Deputy Kidd’s actions in chasing Hudgins, but also said this had been Kidd’s first high speed pursuit. He said he was told by administration that Kidd had followed policy when engaging in the pursuit.

Ross Barrone who is a paramedic with the Crawford County Emergency Medical Services, said on July 16 he was working at EMS station No. 2, near Frontenac when the call came in. He said two ambulances were dispatched to the scene. He said he was instructed to take a blood sample from Hudgins by Dougherty and had been informed on the conditions of the Kemps. He said when he started helping with the Kemp vehicle that the only access initially to Teresa was an arm and they could see her from the neck up. Other than that they couldn’t see her because Taylor’s body was draped across her and the car was crushed. He said it was an extremely difficult extraction that took an hour to an hour-and-a-half to get her out. He said Teresa was not awake, but was moaning and grunting and had a high pulse rate which is typically a sign of either shock or pain. He said he did not believe that it was the brain injury causing the moaning or other symptoms because brain injuries do not cause spikes in pulse rates or blood pressure.

Debra Burns who teaches reading at Riverton Middle School. She said her classroom was right next to Teresa’s. She said she had first met Teresa when she was on the committee interviewing for teachers. She said she thought Teresa was very energetic and knowledgeable. She said she and Teresa called each other Burnsy and Kemper and were very close friends. She also said Teresa had a very quiet way with the children and was always encouraging them and she loved her daughter very much.

“Taylor was her life,” Burns said.

She said the two were very close and that Taylor was a child that other children looked up to, she was a caring, loving, normal child.

Burns told the court before the accident, John was a very robust, happy, smiling individual. She said that when he entered a building you knew he was there. She said after the accident, she hasn’t been able to look at him. She said every time she did look at John she could see the pain in his eyes.

“He has to be in hell.” Burns said.