A Morganton man will serve an active prison term of 28 to 43 months following his conviction for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of a Burke County firefighter.
Randall Hugh Stewart, 59, entered a guilty plea during Burke County Superior Court on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, for the vehicular death of 40-year-old Jason Keith Hensley.
The Honorable David Phillips, Superior Court Judge from Gaston County, imposed the sentence for Stewart, who will serve his period of incarceration in the North Carolina Division of Adult Corrections. The sentence was the maximum possible term for the offense based on the defendant’s prior record level.
Stewart also faced habitual felon status, but the defense filed a motion to have that indictment dismissed prior to the entry of the plea. Following arguments from both sides, Judge Phillips ruled that one of the felony convictions Stewart had from California was not “substantially similar” in nature to a felony in North Carolina. Therefore, the habitual felon indictment was dismissed by the court.
Hensley was a volunteer firefighter for Triple Community Fire Department when he was struck and killed by the pickup truck Stewart was driving on October 9, 2017. He had been with the department for only eight months.
On that date, Hensley and another firefighter were cleaning storm debris from a tree blocking the roadway on U.S. Highway 70 in Drexel when he was hit by Stewart. An investigation by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol showed that Hensley was wearing his department-issued reflective gear, and all emergency vehicles at the location – including a Drexel Police Department cruiser, brush truck from Triple Community Fire Department and Hensley’s personal vehicle – had their emergency lights in operation.
Stewart failed to yield at the scene, striking Hensley and his vehicle as well as the fire department’s brush truck. The blunt force impact of the crash resulted in Hensley’s death.
Members of Hensley’s family and members of the Triple Community Fire Department were present for the hearing and sentencing. A department representative addressed the court and described the impact the fatal crash had on Hensley’s family and firefighters from Triple Community Fire Department.
Trooper Daniel Lane investigated the fatality for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, and Trooper Dan Souther also completed an accident reconstruction. Assistant District Attorneys Lance Sigmon and Michelle Lippert prosecuted the case for the State.