Widow hopes distracted driving sentence cautions others

Published: Jun. 4, 2019 at 12:24 PM CDT
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She didn’t speak, but Lisa Kaffenberger let her husband’s photo tell a story in court.

“Leonard and I would have been married March 28th (for) 38 years,” Kaffenberger said.

Leonard Kaffenberger, 63, died when a car rear-ended his pickup and pushed it into an oncoming SUV.

“You need to drive and see what’s going on instead of paying attention to other things around you,” Lisa Kaffenberger said.

Ashley Baumgart, 22, caused the crash. She told the judge she took her eyes off the road before crashing into the pickup. Leonard signaled and stopped to turn into his small neighborhood off Highway 75.

Neighbor Larry Blackman uses the same driveway.

“I always try to make sure my wheels are turned straight so if somebody does hit me, I’ll go straight and don’t end up going head-on into somebody.”

Before receiving two years of probation, Baumgart tearfully apologized and accepted responsibility for inattentive driving that took a life in the blink of an eye. Investigators found no evidence of alcohol or use of a cell phone before the crash.

The judge ordered her 30-day jail sentence to start in two years, which can be waived if she successfully completes probation. However, Baumgart could be back in court as part of a civil suit brought by the victim’s widow.

Kaffenberger installed this solar lantern in honor of Leonard and added two more for a couple killed just down the road. Unfortunately, she said, four more are needed due to a fatal crash just a mile and half that way.

She reminds drivers that the 65-miles-per-hour speed limit on the two-lane highway requires their full attention.

“Slow down. Watch what you’re doing,” she said. “We’ve lost enough people. We don’t need to lose anyone else.”

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