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Ex-trooper pleads to manslaughter in MSU athlete’s death

Photo: Mississippi State University Athletics

STARKVILLE, Miss. — A former Mississippi Highway Patrol officer has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2017 death of a Mississippi State University track athlete but will not face prison time.

Kyle Lee entered the plea Friday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, news outlets reported.

Lee faced a culpable negligence manslaughter charge for the death of 22-year-old Kaelin Kersh, who was killed when Lee’s police unit hit the car in which she was a passenger. Lee was driving 99 mph (159 kph), without his lights and siren, responding to a suspected DUI call.

Judge Jim Kitchen sentenced Lee to a suspended 10-year term. His attorney, Tony Farese, said Lee also received five years’ probation, was fined $2,000 and ordered to make a $1,000 contribution to the Kaelin Kersh Memorial Endowed Scholarship at Mississippi State. He was also ordered to pay court costs and to partner with the Mississippi Highway Patrol to teach classes about the danger of speeding, Farese said.

Assistant District Attorney Marc Amos says the sentence was determined after talking with Kersh’s family who believed the most important thing was for Lee to take responsibility for Kersh’s death.

“I think it’s an appropriate result that reflects the family’s wishes,” Amos said.

The wreck spawned a civil lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. In June 2018, 16th Circuit Judge Lee Coleman ordered MDPS to pay $500,000 to Tanequa Alexander, of Ridgeland, and Noel A. Collier, of Madison, two passengers injured in the crash, and the Kersh estate.

Last year, state legislators passed, and Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law, the Kaelin Kersh Act, which requires emergency responders to turn on flashing lights when going more than 30 mph (48 kph) faster than the speed limit.

Kersh, of Pearl, was a middle distance runner and sprinter for the Bulldogs from 2014 to 2017. She competed in the distance medley relay and 4 x 400-meter relay. Her father, George Kersh, was a top-ranked 800-meter runner in the 1980s and 1990s, twice narrowly missing qualifying for the Olympics.

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