ST. LOUIS • An Imperial man pleaded guilty Monday in a hit-and-run crash that killed a AAA tow truck driver along Interstate 70 in St. Louis earlier this year.
Aaron K. Bogue, 21, faces up to four years in prison for leaving the scene of an injury crash. Circuit Judge Margaret M. Neill will sentence Bogue on Dec. 7.
Bogue wore an orange jail jumpsuit in court as he admitted killing 51-year-old tow truck driver David Bense Sr. on the night of April 16. Bense had put down cones on Interstate 70 near West Florissant Avenue after stopping to assist with a disabled vehicle.
Another motorist saw the deadly crash and chased Bogue's vehicle, following him off the interstate and through numerous streets and alleys while calling police. They arrived and arrested Bogue.
Bogue's vehicle had extensive damage and Bense's blood on it, assistant circuit attorney Timothy Boyer told the judge.
Bogue, of the 800 block of Country Glen Drive in Imperial, has several felony convictions that include burglary, property damage and drug possession. He has a case pending in St. Louis County for fraudulent use of a credit card.
Bense was a lifelong St. Louis resident who lived with his wife in the city's Gate District neighborhood. He had been with AAA as a tow truck driver since Dec. 1.
A dozen of Bense's family members sat quietly in court to watch Bogue's guilty plea.
"He's taking responsibility for his actions; I guess he could give us that much," Bense's wife of 31 years, Kathryn Bense, said afterward.
The range of punishment for the crime is one day in jail to four years in prison. Even if the judge gives Bogue the maximum punishment, Kathryn Bense said she doesn't think four years is enough.
"He took a life, so why shouldn't he give a life?" she said.
Linda Bosslet, David Bense's sister-in-law, said the family is fed up with the criminal justice system.
Last week, Bosslet and Kathryn Bense met with two assistant circuit attorneys, who tried to explain why Bogue didn't face a stiffer charge. Bogue had told police he thought he hit an animal that night on the highway, and blood tests were inconclusive in determining if Bogue had been impaired, Bosslet said she was told.
"The loss of life in this matter has been devastating for this family as it is to all families who suffer life-altering tragedies," the prosecuting attorney's office said in a statement. "Over the past several months, a thorough investigation was conducted and we exhausted every possible scenario to ensure Aaron Bogue was charged with the highest charge under Missouri state law and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, given the circumstances and evidence available in this matter."
Kathryn Bense plans to give a victim-impact statement in court at the sentencing.
On Monday, she wore a gold chain around her neck that held her wedding ring and anniversary rings — and her husband's misshapen wedding band. Damaged in the crash, it is in the shape of an imperfect oval rather than a circle.
MOVE OVER LAW
Kathryn Bense said she is upset that tow truck drivers don't seem to be given some of the same protections as others who work on the highways. For example, Missouri's new "Move Over" law requires drivers to slow down or move over a lane as they approach a Missouri Department of Transportation motorist assist vehicle. The law already applied to emergency vehicles such as police, firefighters and paramedics.
However, because some tow trucks use amber and white warning lights — rather than red or red and blue lights used by most emergency vehicles — they wouldn't be covered by the law the way it was written. AAA spokesman Mike Right, who is a lobbyist for the organization, said he would be asking the Missouri Legislature to clarify the law so all tow truck drivers are included.
But Right said that the penalty for not moving over is a misdemeanor and wouldn't add much weight to more serious charges involving someone's death.
"I think we have to pursue this protection," said Right, who attended Bense's funeral. "I don't know if charging someone with violating a move-over law is likely to get any more time on his (sentence). He left the scene of a crash that involved a fatality. That's much more serious."
Bense was the second tow-truck operator killed this year in Missouri. The other was 18-year-old Blake Gresham, who was killed in August in Kansas City.
Jaris Innis, president of the Missouri Tow Truck Association, said the law should be changed to protect all tow truck drivers. But despite the fine print in the law, motorists should be more careful, he said.
"Regardless of the move-over law, you have a duty to not run over someone," Innis said.