A Salina man has been convicted of first-degree manslaughter for driving under the influence of drugs and killing four Kellyville people in a crash in August 2013.
David Ernst, 52, was driving east on Highway 66 when his 1996 Chevrolet pickup truck crossed the center line and struck a 1999 Buick sedan head on, killing three generations of one family.
Dead are Vernon M. Bowles, 74; Susie B. Frazier, 74; Vivian R. Henry, 51, and 9-year-old Alex. The family was on its way home from a shopping trip.
According to court documents, Ernst told a Creek County deputy at the scene of the crash that he had taken five or six Lortabs before driving that night. A prosecutor on Thursday said Ernst also had Valium in his system.
Creek County Assistant District Attorney Mike Loeffler said he felt the jury was just in its decision. He said a crucial piece of testimony was that of a witness who followed Ernst for miles and watched him drive off the highway five or six times before the fatal crash.
Regina Ernst, David's wife, claimed to reporters that someone paid the witness to say he saw Ernst swerve several times.
Before the jury returned its verdict, Regina Ernst said she thought the charges were "B.S." and her husband was just tired the night of the fatal crash.
"He'd been working a lot of hours; he'd fallen asleep," she said. "People made it sound like he was a druggie.
"He was tired... They got him for a DUI; they make him sound like he's a druggie. He's not a druggie. I've been married to him for 30 years and in the 30 years we've been married, he's never taken a vacation. He's always worked and he's supported three families."
Loeffler didn't argue the fact that Ernst may have been sleepy, saying the combination of drugs in Ernst's system would cause drowsiness.
Regina Ernst said she prays for the victims' family every day and hopes they will forgive her husband.
"We are sorry. We are so sorry," she said. "And I wish we could take their place, I really do."
Then she added that locking up her husband "is not going to do any good."
Loeffler said the case wasn't an easy one for the jury, but by Ernst's own reported admission to deputies and subsequent tests, he was under the influence of drugs.
Ernst was found guilty on all four counts of first-degree manslaughter and will be sentenced later this summer.
The victims' family did not comment to reporters.