Truck driver in 2016 Interstate 80 crash that killed 6 — including family of 5 — pleads no contest

Truck driver in 2016 Interstate 80 crash that killed 6 — including family of 5 — pleads no contest
Tony Weekly Jr., left center, the truck driver charged in a fiery July 2016 interstate crash that killed a Minnesota family of five and a Denver man, accepted a plea deal Tuesday in Keith County District Court. (World-Herald News Service)

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — The truck driver charged in a July 2016 crash on Interstate 80 that killed six people accepted a plea deal Tuesday.

Tony Weekly Jr. of Baker, Florida, pleaded no contest in Keith County District Court to three counts of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide, three counts of felony motor vehicle homicide and one count of misdemeanor reckless driving.

A family of five from Minnesota died in the crash, and a man from Denver later died from the injuries he suffered.

The difference between the felony and misdemeanor motor-vehicle homicide charges is that the felony charges indicated that death occurred due to reckless driving, Judge Richard Birch said.

Keith County Attorney Randy Fair on Tuesday described the July 31 crash:

A Nebraska state trooper was called to a multiple-vehicle accident about 11:30 a.m. on Interstate 80 near Brule.

The trooper found Terry Sullivan, 56, of Denver, unconscious in the back seat of a van that had been struck, Fair said. Sullivan died days after the crash.

A blue minivan also was engulfed in flames, Fair said. Troopers later found five bodies in the fire: Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, and the couple’s three children: Ezra, 3; Violet, almost 2; and Calvin, 2 months old.

Through ensuing investigation, law enforcement learned that Weekly struck one vehicle, causing a chain reaction. Weekly said he was driving 55 mph; witness reports and crash reconstruction indicated he was going between 58 and 60 mph, Fair said.

Fair said that Weekly was reaching for his drink and that he was on a phone call, which ended just after the crash.

Weekly’s attorney, Gary Krajewski, said Weekly was using a Bluetooth headset, “which is perfectly legal in trucks.”

Fair asked Birch to revoke Weekly’s bail. Krajewski said Weekly has cooperated with court officials from his home in Florida, and Birch denied Fair’s motion.

Weekly left when the hearing ended; Krajewski remained in court for another hearing and did not return phone calls seeking comment later Tuesday morning.

Weekly is scheduled to be sentenced July 20.

Nebraska State Trooper Darrell Crawford attended the hearing. Afterward, he said he was the first to arrive on scene.

Crawford said that he felt relief that the case is settled and that it brought “a bit of closure.”