A Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper accused of speeding to a scene without using his emergency lights or sirens and killing a Mississippi State student athlete two days after her 2017 graduation has been indicted in the fatal crash.
Kyle Lee, 30, was indicted Jan. 10 on a charge of culpable negligence manslaughter in the May 7, 2017, death of 22-year-old Kaelin Kersh, of Pearl, according to The Commercial Dispatch. He was arrested Thursday and booked into the Oktibbeha County Jail but has since been released on bail of $5,000.
The indictment alleges that Lee was driving his 2016 Highway Patrol SUV at speeds of up to 99 mph on Highway 182 in Starkville, a stretch of highway with a posted speed limit of 45 mph. It was shortly before 1:30 a.m. and Lee was responding to a report of a vehicle that had left the roadway.
Neither his blue emergency lights nor his siren was activated, the indictment said.
As he approached the intersection of Highway 182 and Mayhew Road, the SUV smashed into a 2002 Toyota Corolla turning onto the roadway.
Kersh, a track-and-field standout who graduated two days earlier with a degree in kinesiology, was killed in the crash, the newspaper said. The driver of the Corolla, Noel Collier, and a second passenger, Tanequa Alexander, were hospitalized, but survived.
Lee is currently on administrative leave from his job as a trooper, the Dispatch said.
Oktibbeha County District Attorney Scott Colom told the newspaper his office conducted an independent investigation at the request of Kersh’s family. The results of the probe were handed over to a grand jury.
"Ultimately it was a grand jury decision to bring the indictment," Colom told the newspaper. "I wanted to make sure the investigation was done and presented fairly to a grand jury and that it was decided fairly based on the information they have and the law as explained to them."
Trent Walker, an attorney for the Kersh family, said the victim’s loved ones are pleased with the indictment.
"We already knew and had the evidence with regard to the speed and the fact that there was no light or siren and, indeed, no emergency," Walker said. "Under those circumstances, had he been driving the speed limit and obeying the law as the citizens are required to do, there would be no accident and Kaelin Kersh would be with us today. I would say that the family is pleased that the state of Mississippi decided to take this step."
A civil lawsuit filed against the Mississippi Department of Public Safety by the Kersh family, Collier and Alexander was settled last June, with a judge ordering the department to pay $500,000 in damages to the plaintiffs.
Also last year, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Kaelin Kersh Act into law. The new law requires emergency responders to activate lights and sirens any time they travel more than 30 miles over the posted speed limit.
Kersh’s mother, Toni Kersh, was instrumental in getting the law on the books.
Toni Kersh told WJTV 12 following the indictment that the new development has her thinking for the first time about Lee and what his own family is going through.
"Not only did he destroy my family and family associated with my family, but now his family, and his parents and all his other relatives," Toni Kersh said. "So it's bittersweet because, you know, I'm human, but I also have a heart."
Kersh described her daughter as a “real sweetheart” who was laid back and had no enemies.
"As parents, you see her as your daughter," Toni Kersh said. "It was after she was gone and you realize just how many lives she impacted during her stay here.
George Kersh, who himself was a world-class runner, recalled the hours he spent with his daughter, training her.
"There were many, many hours spent on the track with Daddy teaching her how to run and proper technique," George Kersh told the news station. "So it's a battle every day."
Mississippi State track and field coach Steve Dudley mourned the university’s recent graduate the day of the crash.
"I will always remember Kaelin by her incredible smile," Dudley said in a statement. "Kaelin always had a positive attitude and this was contagious to everyone around her. Kaelin was a member of the most successful era of women's track and field at Mississippi State and that was largely due to the tight bond between her and her teammates.
“We all loved her, and Kaelin will remain in our hearts forever.”