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Eleventh Judicial District Court Judge Jeffery Jack found Kaston Hudgins “100 percent responsible” for the 2009 deaths of Taylor and Teresa Kemp in Cherokee County District Court Friday.
It was the culmination of three days of emotional testimony, in which friends and family members including John Kemp, the father of Taylor and husband of Teresa.
Jack hit Hudgins with nearly $5.5 million in compensatory damages and is awaiting post trial briefs before making a decision on punitive damages.
Hudgins showed no emotion as the judge read his decision point by point and said “the court only regrets it is limited statutorily to $250,000” for pain and suffering.
Defense attorneys had argued the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department was at least partially responsible for the death of the Kemps because Deputy Dean Kidd had been engaged in a high-speed pursuit when Hudgins’ stolen car slammed into the back of the Pontiac Vibe driven by Teresa Kemp.
Jack called that defense “borderline frivolous.”
“In this court’s opinion Deputy Kidd did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Jack said. “To find otherwise would mean no law enforcement officer would be able to pursue anyone anytime.”
Cherokee County Sheriff David Groves said he was happy with the outcome and that the judge had made clear his deputy had not done anything wrong.
“I’m glad this chapter of the ordeal is over for Mr. Kemp and his family and the community,” Groves said.
Groves said his department had done an internal review after the incident and was satisfied the judge had agreed.
“I’m glad to have a determination in court that 100 percent of the responsibility lies with Mr. Hudgins,” Groves said.
In rendering his decision Jack said he had reviewed all the exhibits which had been submitted including the CKSO policy manual, recordings of the radio transmissions during the chase.
Jack first addressed Kemp.
“As not a judge but as a human being I extend my deepest sympathies,” Jack said. “I think I speak for everyone here that we can all learn something from your response to this tragedy.”
Jack then turned to the decision.
“In this case the court was asked not only to interpret the law but to be the tryer of fact, to determine what actually happened here.”
Jack then went on to tick off multiple findings including negligence, drunk driving — Hudgins had a blood alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit at the time of the wreck — as well as a “conscious and unjustifiable disregard for the safety of others.”
Before announcing the compensatory damages Jack addressed his reasoning.
“So that the record is clear, no one person or family is perfect, however Teresa and Taylor were perfect to the plaintiff,” he said. “You cannot put a value on a life, but that is what we do in court.”
Jack then made his award in which he apparently relied on the earlier testimony of Dr. Kurt Krueger, a senior accountant at John Ward Economics and economist who has been called upon for testimony of economic damages for at least 40 other wrongful death suits in Kansas alone.
Krueger told the court on Thursday how he calculated the economic damages to Kemp by the deaths of his daughter, Taylor, and his wife, Teresa. He said used loss of financial support and loss of services to calculate damages. He said when calculating loss of financial support it is mainly loss of earnings that are calculated and he also calculates loss of assistance, which includes things like cooking, cleaning, and direct physical assistance.
Krueger calculated loss of financial support at $967,988 and loss of spousal services, which includes time together as well as things like cooking and cleaning at $719,139.
Similar calculations were made for Taylor Kemp.
He said the process was a little different because they had to calculate for a single woman’s life because they would never know if she would be married and have children. He said when it came to Taylor’s earnings they were calculated through her father’s life expectancy, not hers. He said they made two estimates. One for if she obtained a bachelor’s degree and one for if she obtained a master’s degree. The estimated earnings for her bachelor’s was $359,949 and for the masters was $387,508. The estimated services and contribution to the family would be $157,553 for a bachelors and $162,224 for her masters, bringing the totals to $517,502 for a bachelor’s and $549,732 for a masters. He said that this was the accepted methodology for a child because it was reasonable expectations for what could have happened but never will now. He said in his calculations he did not consider prior health complications.
On Friday John Kemp fought back tears as his attorneys asked him about how he and his wife met and what their relationship was like as well as his relationship with his daughter.
“Sometimes I feel selfish in my grief,” he said through tears. “This has affected this whole community.”
Kemp said he first found out about the wreck on Television and, because he didn’t have his phone he left a note for his wife and daughter in case they came home.
When he got to the crash site he said the asked the first officer what color the car was when Crawford County Undersheriff Dan Peak came over to him and said “Don’t go over there, it’s your girls.”
Kemp wiped tears from his eyes as he testified his employer was on the scene and took him to St. John’s Medical center in Joplin, Mo.
Throughout the trial Hudgins sat quietly showing no emotion.
Hudgins has been charged with two counts of felony murder in the criminal case which carries the same penalty as first degree murder in the state of Kansas. He is scheduled to go to trial in June.