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Police: Driver hit gas pedal instead of brake

By: JOHN C. ENSSLIN
July 22, 2009
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Investigators concluded that Kelli McKay stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake when she triggered an accident that killed an 18-year-old girl who was engulfed in flames after being pinned beneath a toppled gas pump.

That’s one of the conclusions reached in the traffic accident report on the March 17 freak accident that killed Whitney Hendrickson, a college freshman about a month shy of turning 19.

Colorado Springs police released the 54-page report Wednesday after McKay, 39, pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in death and was sentenced to five years probation.

Shortly after the accident, McKay told police “my brakes, they wouldn’t stop.”

However investigators tested the brakes on her 2003 Ford Explorer and determined there was no malfunction. When an investigator suggested she might have stepped on the gas pedal by mistake, McKay responded, “anything is possible.”

The crash touched off an inferno in the parking lot of at 1:40 p.m. in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at 1428 W. Colorado Ave. that reached temperatures of between 1,500 to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, a fire official estimated.

Investigators said the shut off safety valve on the pump worked, leaving about 2 to 6 gallons that fueled the fire. Authorities believe an electrical short within the pump ignited the blaze.

By studying a videotape from the 7-Eleven, investigators were able to estimate that the Explorer was traveling between 14 and 16 miles per hour at the time of impact. On the video, flames could be seen within seconds of the crash.

McKay told police that she had been trying to find a doctor’s office that day. She said she had passed through the 7-Eleven parking lot twice and was planning to stop on the third pass to use the telephone and get the address.

She had a cell phone, but told police it had broken earlier that day.

She also told police that she had been on prescription medicine. The name of the medication was blacked out in the redacted accident report. At first she said she had not taken any in four days. Later she said she had taken medication about 4 a.m. that day.

She broke down into tears at several points during her interviews with police.

“She said that she had killed somebody and that if she did she might as well kill herself,” the report stated.

Readers may view most of the report. Police officials redacted some information, and The Gazette is withholding three pages that contain especially graphic details.

 

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