Shattered survivors tell judge of grief
For the Kerr family, everything changed July 7, 2003.
"Now, when we want to have a family gathering we meet at a cemetery," Tiffany Soursa said Tuesday.
Her brother Kenneth Kerr Jr., 35, his wife and three children were killed that bright summer day when a tractor-trailer sped through a stop sign in Slippery Rock and the Kerrs' Dodge Neon slammed into the side of the rig.
A Butler County judge yesterday sentenced truck driver Ejub Grcic, 57, of West Valley, Utah, to 15 to 30 months in prison on five counts of involuntary manslaughter. Grcic, who pleaded guilty to the charges, also must pay more than $80,000 in restitution and fines.
Killed in the fiery crash along with Kerr Jr. were his wife, Janet, 35; their children, Kathleen, 13, and Kenneth III, 4; and Janet's daughter Alessandra Hall, 16. The Wilson's Mills, N.C., family was visiting Kenneth Kerr Jr.'s parents, Cathy and Ken Sr., of Butler Township, for the July 4 holiday.
Relatives described their enduring heartache in an emotional four-hour hearing before Judge George Hancher.
"When they left that day, they were full of life and they were making plans. My niece (Alessandra) held my baby daughter in her arms and she told me how she was going to have a big family," Soursa said.
The Kerrs were headed for an outing at Moraine State Park when they drove into the intersection of Route 8 and Branchton Road.
Soursa saw the tragedy unfold.
"From my house I could see the smoke just over the tree line. I'd never seen that amount of smoke before. It was black and it was wide and it was high. I remember looking out my window, and everything just stopped," Soursa told the judge. "I didn't know that was my family."
Janet Kerr's sister, Vicki Dillard, traveled to Butler from her home in Kentucky to speak in court.
"I've never felt so helpless, and the loss I've felt is indescribable," she said. "It's with us every day. ... Our family has been sentenced for life."
Cathy Kerr is haunted by the crash.
"This crime and these deaths have left me searching, and left me feeling lonely beyond words," she said.
As family members spoke, Grcic wept.
"I would like to die myself, if that could bring them to be alive," the Bosnian immigrant said, his voice wavering as he spoke through a translator. "What am I• They were five. That is so big. I will never get back to myself again -- never, never.
"I know that they feel much, much worse than I do."
Grcic's lawyer, Tom Donohue, read letters from the trucker's wife and daughters in Seattle and Pittsburgh, describing his loving and protective nature, his devotion to his family and their struggle when they left Bosnia as refugees in 1993.
Grcic has spent the last 29 months under house arrest at his daughter Murisa Bajgoric's home in Mt. Lebanon. His time under house arrest will not be applied to his sentence, Hancher ruled. Donohue plans to appeal that decision.
"Since the accident, my father has changed," Bajgoric said. "The gleam in his eyes is gone. ... He is quick to cry for no apparent reason. Always he thinks of those people in the accident. His thoughts for those people have always imprisoned him in the strongest bars of all, the bars of his own sadness. ... So much of him died in that accident."
Cathy Kerr believes Grcic's remorse is sincere.
"He's living his pain," she said. "He will have to deal with it as long as he lives."