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Firefighter gets 12 years for arson that led to death

Plea agreement results in dropping of murder charge

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

A former Platte County firefighter was given a 12 year sentence for arson and property damage after reaching a plea agreement with the special prosecutor in a high-profile case.

The agreement means Jason Hendrix, 28, won't stand trial for murder. He was originally charged with second degree murder under the state's felony murder statute, which says that a person who commits a felony can be charged with murder if someone dies as a result of the crime.

Hendrix was sentenced to seven years for arson and five years for property damage. The sentences will run consecutively for a total of 12 years.

On June 2, 2001, Hendrix, at the time a member of the Edgerton-Trimble Fire Department, set a barn on fire near Edgerton. A fire truck responding to the call from the Dearborn Area Fire Protection District overturned on its way to the blaze, killing 30-year-old Travis Brown. Driver of the truck was firefighter Perry McAuley.

Patrick Peters, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case last year after interim Platte County Prosecutor Tammy Glick stepped aside, said he was confident he could have won a conviction on the murder charge at jury trial.

"But there may have been a problem at the court of appeals level," Peters said in a telephone conversation Tuesday.

"After talking with the victim's family, I just thought it wasn't something that warranted going forward on a felony murder charge," he added.

Peters said it would have been the "farthest stretch so far" on the state's felony murder statute.

Peters commented that "it was an accident that was not reasonably foreseeable is what factored in my mind" in dropping the murder charge.

Peters then added if the only way for him to get prison time for Hendrix would have been the felony murder trial, he would have chosen that route.

Peters, who was Jackson County Prosecutor from 1985-93, said the Brown family was happy with the agreement that was reached.

Possible defense tactics in a trial could have been to attack the competency of the fire department and to question the actions of the driver.

Brown and McAuley were on their way to a barn fire when the pumper truck overturned at Route B and Malcolm Lake Road near Edgerton, killing Brown and injuring McAuley.

Hendrix also pleaded guilty to five counts of negligently setting fire to a woodland. He had been charged with setting five grass fires between May 15 and May 23, 2001.

Hendrix was represented by Bert Godding, public defender. Godding had asked the court for probation, or barring that, a three-year total sentence.

But Judge Rex Gabbert, a Clay County judge who had traveled to Platte County to handle the case, said the maximum sentence was appropriate because as a firefighter, Hendrix occupied a special position of trust in the community.

The original charges against Hendrix were filed by Todd Graves, now United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri who was Platte County Prosecutor at the time of the incident.

Current Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, who defeated interim prosecutor Tammy Glick in November, declined to specifically comment on Monday's developments.

"My predecessor, Tammy Glick, asked for and obtained a special prosecutor in this case. As a result, the Platte County Prosecutor's Office was removed from this case before I assumed office and did not have any role in the decisions," Zahnd said.