Assistant Prosecutor speaks out after controversial sentencing at Lake of the Ozarks

John Bennett pled guilty in court Tuesday
John Bennett pled guilty in court Tuesday(CAMDEN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 5:59 PM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 7:16 PM CDT
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LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. (KY3) - A boater pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor boating while intoxicated for a deadly crash in the summer of 2020.

A judge sentenced John Bennett to a six-month suspended sentence, two years of probation, and a $1,000 fine.

That crash killed Dawn Marie Steinkuehler.

“It’s just destroyed, just shattered our family,” said Charlie Terrell, Marie’s brother

Terrell was one of several family and friends in the courtroom for the sentencing on Tuesday. The family disagreed with the deal.

In court, the assistant prosecutor told the judge he didn’t have the evidence to continue with the more serious charges.

The crash report explains the crash happened as Bennett was driving his boat on Lake of the Ozarks in July 2020. He hit another boat full of people, killing Steinkuehler and seriously injuring her husband and daughter.

”She was the baby of the family, kept everybody together. We were as close as a family can be. We talked every day, every day, numerous times,” said Terrell.

Initially, Bennett was charged with multiple felonies.

“At the time of the crash, the state expected evidence would come out that there were some additional factors involved that would make charging boating while intoxicated death, boating while intoxicated serious physical injury, and boating while intoxicated physical injury, to make those tenable charges,“ said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Steven Kretzer.

The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office declined an interview Tuesday before the hearing but did agree to one on Wednesday.

Kretzer says the full Missouri Highway Patrol report, released nearly a year later, did not support the more serious charges.

”It brought a lot of questions about whether or not the state was going to be able to prove that third element in those offenses of criminal negligence,” said Kretzer.

Criminal negligence is the key phrase in felony BWI charges. The prosecutor says getting behind the wheel of a boat drunk doesn’t necessarily mean someone is criminally negligent in Missouri. The prosecutor would have to prove Bennett knew he would be causing the death or injuries of another person.

”The case law is very clear that intoxication alone is insufficient to prove the criminal negligence element because that’s a separate element intoxication is a separate element,” said Kretzer.

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