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American Fork • All parties made many mistakes leading to a crash that killed Ashleigh Best, run off the road by a man who was trying to repossess her SUV.
She paid with her life, her husband, Brennen Best, told 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen on Tuesday. He paid by having to live the rest of his life without her, raising their three children.
And on Tuesday, Lunnen ordered the repo man, 50-year-old Kenneth Lee Drew, to pay a hefty penalty for his role in the crash: a one-to-15-year term behind bars at the Utah State Prison.
The sentencing was a surprise to many involved in the case because attorneys had worked out a favorable plea deal for Drew that recommended he serve just a year at the local jail, followed by a lengthy probation.
Drew pleaded guilty in November to manslaughter, a second-degree-felony, admitting that he recklessly caused the death of 35-year-old Ashleigh Best on May 17. Prosecutors agreed to not ask for a prison term, according to the plea agreement, and Best's family was not allowed to advocate for any specific punishment during Drew's sentencing Tuesday.
Despite the lawyers' agreement, Lunnen ordered the maximum punishment allowed. He gave Drew a week to report to authorities to begin serving his sentence.
Best's family was pleased with the sentencing.
"I'm extremely happy," Brennen Best said. "I think that the facts of the case couldn't be overlooked. The facts are that he chased my wife 12 blocks, put her into a tree and killed her. And he has to answer for that. My answering is that I lost my wife. My wife lost her life. My children have lost their parents. I'm just a shell of what I was. Today, there is just a little victory."
Drew left the courthouse Tuesday without commenting to reporters, shielding his face from cameras with his hands. But during the hearing, Drew was apologetic, saying he took the plea deal so Best's family and his own could move on from the tragedy.
"This was an unfortunate accident, and I do apologize to the family," he said. "There was no intent for anything to happen."
Drew admitted in court documents that on May 17, he pursued Ashleigh Best's vehicle rapidly, a chase in which the woman's car left the road and crashed into a tree. Best died from her injuries.
Drew went to Best's Pleasant Grove home, that day, charges state, to repossess her Lincoln Navigator.
Surveillance video shows that after Drew tried to box in Best's SUV with his tow truck, she maneuvered the vehicle around his, charges state, and Drew an employee of On Demand Repo went "speeding" after her "in very close pursuit."
Police believe their speeds through city streets reached 70 to 80 mph and that Drew drove the tow truck "straight" on an S-curve "to pin Mrs. Best against the curb on the right."
The SUV jumped the curb and hit a tree. Police believe the collision occurred at full speed.
Defense attorney Loni DeLand told the judge Tuesday that while there was "no question" that his client should have known his actions were reckless, the crash was not intentional. He noted that Ashleigh Best had a mixture of drugs in her system at the time of her death including antihistamine, anti-anxiety medication and methadone which could that have affected the woman's driving. He said the crash "could have been induced by either party," and that he had asked the judge for jail with work release.
Patrick Holloway, Ashleigh Best's father, told the judge that he remembered hearing the roar of an engine, the screech of tires as Drew began the pursuit of his daughter that day.
"To blame her or to excuse him by saying that she had a fault in his recklessness I just can't think of anything to compare it to," he said. "... I don't think this man has felt he had to apologize for anything that happened."