A wrong-way crash Wednesday night killed one person and injured two others.
Just before 10 p.m., a Ford Ranger pick-up truck driven by 29-year-old Dennis Leporin of Columbia was headed the wrong way on southbound 54 when he hit the 2003 Saturn Ion carrying 19-year-old Chelsea Fredrickson, who was driving, and her boyfriend Jasper "Jay" Richmond. The crash occurred at the intersection of Highway 54 and 179, with the vehicles traveling at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour.
Chelsea was killed on impact. Jay was seriously injured and life-flighted to University Hospital.
"When a young person, or teenager, is killed just out of high school, it's hard because they have so much life ahead of them," Captain Doug Shoemaker of the Jefferson City Police Department said.
Both Chelsea and Jay, described as a carefree couple, lived and worked in Jefferson City.
Burl Lutz, owner of Lutz's BBQ, said Chelsea was an outstanding worker and always made people smile. He said that over the past year she worked there, Chelsea always showed up early, which stood out to him. Lutz added that they're like family at the restaurant, and that the loss of Chelsea is devastating for the tight-knit group.
Jay works at MC Sports. The manager said he has been an employee for a while, and that he had seen the couple leave work together a few times. Jay is said to be a hard worker, like Chelsea was for Lutz's. The two businesses are in the same complex, so Chelsea would often pick Jay up from work. Co-workers said the two had known each other for three or four years and seemed inseparable.
"Typical couple, you know," Derrick Parker, MC Sports assistant manager, said. "Always around each other, always spending time. Seems like they enjoyed each other's company quite a bit, you know. Jay and I used to talk about all the trips they used to take, and the things they used to do. On those trips they used to go camping, they liked the outdoors and enjoying each other's company."
Leporin was taken to Capitol Region Medical Center and later arrested.
Authorities said alcohol is believed to be a factor in the crash, which is under investigation.
Leporin has been charged with second-degree vehicular murder while intoxicated; second-degree assault for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, resulting in an injury; persistent offenses of driving while intoxicated; driving while his license was revoked/suspended; and driving the wrong direction on a highway divided into two or more roadways, causing an immediate threat of an accident.
He was also charged with driving while intoxicated in May 2011.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to
, 120 days in Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program and two years of unsupervised probation.
In 2008, Leporin pleaded guilty to
operating a motor vehicle in a careless and imprudent manner, involving an accident,
and was fined $400.
Police tell us it's hard to keep repeat offenders off the road if they don't obey the laws, especially if they spent little to no time in jail for previous offenses. When offenders are caught, police said they do their best to bring justice to victims of alcohol-related crashes.
"It really can vary," Shoemaker said. "And getting somebody hurt in a traffic crash adds so much more to it clearly, because there's the thought that getting behind the wheel...not only being drunk and getting behind the wheel, but then making that decision to do so and hurting someone else is a whole other level and that's what happened in this case."
Authorities added that cases like this help them drive home the point to either drive sober, or don't drive at all.