A judge has sentenced the man who drove a log truck involved in a deadly 2014 accident near Clinton to 40 years in prison.
Jerry L. Hickman, 41, of Bee Branch had been using methamphetamine and was free on probation for meth possession when the wreck occurred June 2, 2014, authorities have said. A police officer at the time described Hickman's behavior as resembling that of an intoxicated person.
Hickman on Tuesday entered a negotiated plea of guilty to two counts of negligent homicide, 10 counts of first-degree felony battery and six counts of second-degree felony battery.
Judge H.G. Foster, ruling in Van Buren County Circuit Court in Clinton, sentenced Hickman to 40 years in prison. Foster also ordered Hickman to pay $15,525.25 in restitution to a Morrilton-based contractors business.
Two construction workers -- Ricardo Trochez, 40, of Atkins and Hubert Keith Moore, 51, of Chester -- died and more than a dozen others were injured on June 2, 2014, when the truck overturned, spilling logs that struck the workers.
The wreck occurred near the Archey Creek bridge as Hickman was traveling south on U.S. 65 and approaching Arkansas 16 and the Peterbilt TTL had a blowout on the left rear tire of its trailer. The truck's load shifted, causing the trailer to overturn and spill the logs onto the bridge and roadway.
The 20-year sentence on each of the negligent homicide charges against Hickman reflected the maximum sentence. The judge also made those two sentences consecutive.
"The moment Jerry Hickman took the wheel high on methamphetamines, his log truck became a weapon of destruction," Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chad Brown said in a written statement Wednesday. "In agreeing to a negotiated plea of 40 years in prison, the State ensured that he serves the maximum sentence for the two lives taken by his crime.
"In his plea, Hickman also accepted responsibility for each of the 16 workers injured as a result of his action. It is our hope that bringing the criminal prosecution to a close helps the families and the community move forward from this tragic event."
According to the felony document charging Hickman, "A person commits negligent homicide if he or she negligently causes the death of another person, not constituting murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a vehicle while intoxicated."
The truck's owner, Don Allen Pearson, also has had legal problems since the wreck.
Pearson was among 34 people indicted by a federal grand jury in Little Rock in September 2014 after a more than two-year investigation of crystal methamphetamine sales in the Ozark foothills. Authorities said at the time that they thought the crystal meth was made in Mexico, then sold in the rural Clinton area.
In November 2015, Pearson pleaded guilty to distributing at least 50 grams of methamphetamine, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Givens said Wednesday. Pearson was sentenced March 1 to three years of probation, Givens said.
State Desk on 09/22/2016