KEARNEY — A California semi-trailer driver has been found guilty of the unintentional deaths of three people in a construction zone near the Gibbon interchange in 2019.
Kenneth Kratt, 36, of Madera pleaded no contest today in Buffalo County District Court to three counts of felony manslaughter for the unintentional deaths of two Lincoln men and a Schuyler man. The charges accused Kratt of reckless and willfull reckless driving on Sept. 20, 2019.
A no contest plea is neither an admission nor denial of guilt, but the plea is treated the same as a guilty plea. Judge John Marsh accepted his plea and ordered the Nebraska Probation Office to do a presentence investigation on Kratt. Findings of that report — including background information on a defendant, family and criminal history, employment record and a substance abuse evaluation — will help Marsh to issue an appropriate sentence, which is scheduled in December.
Kratt faces up to 20 years in prison on each count. He remains free on bond.
On Sept. 20, 2019, Kratt was driving a 2020 Peterbilt semitrailer, 75 mph to 78 mph in a construction zone near the Gibbon I-80 interchange when he first hit the rear of a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Ryan Vanicek of Schuyler that had slowed for traffic in the construction zone, court records indicate.
The chain-reaction crash caused the deaths of Vanicek and Daniel Seelhoff of Lincoln, both occupants of the Silverado that caught fire.
The third fatality happened when Kratt hit the rear of a 2019 Chevrolet Equinox, driven by Scott Gaylord, also of Lincoln, causing it to go under the trailer of a 2019 Volvo semi.
In all, seven vehicles — the Peterbilt, Silverado, Equinox, Volvo, a 2010 Ford pickup, a 2007 Toyota Camry and a 2012 Chevrolet Impala — were involved in the crash.
Three other people sustained injuries in the crash, but none were considered to be life-threatening. Kratt wasn’t seriously injured.
In October 2019, a warrant was issued for Kratt’s arrest, records show, and he was arrested later that month.
Kratt is represented by Kearney attorney Charles Brewster.