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11-12-2014

Truck driver charged in
death of motorist
Crash killed hospitality industry executive

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

On Monday, Nov. 3, charges were filed against a truck driver, who crashed and killed a motorist, slowing at a construction zone along Interstate 29 on Nov. 4, 2013.

The Platte County Prosecutor's Office charged Robert Sanko, 46, of Topeka, with a class D felony of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree, a class B misdemeanor of driving after 70 hours on duty in an eight day period, and a class C misdemeanor of following another vehicle too closely.

Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecutor, alleges Sanko caused the death of Jerry Ray Wofford, age 65, of Topeka, Kan. by failing to slow down his 2014 Freightliner in a halted construction zone.

Authorities allege he acted with criminal negligence when he caused the six-vehicle collision crash.

According to information given by Corporal M.B. Kock with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the fatal collision occurred at 5:30 p.m. as vehicles began to slow in the northbound lanes of Interstate 29 about four miles north of Platte City near the 22.8 mile marker.

Evidence indicates Sanko was driving in violation of commercial vehicle laws since he had been driving for two hours beyond the 70 hours allowed over an eight day period.

The investigation also determined Sanko had nearly half a mile of visibility to slow his vehicle and avoid colliding with Wofford, who was driving a 2004 Volkswagen. Authorities say that was sufficient time to react to the stalled traffic.

Due to the severity of the damage, authorities were unable to access the information obtained in the black boxes inside either vehicle. At the time of impact, the Volkswagen was stopped in rush hour traffic. Authorities allege the Volkswagen was going between 55 and 60 miles per hour after colliding with the truck, which suggests it was struck at a similar speed.

Authorities allege Sanko was inattentive and failed to maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles.

After striking the Volkswagen and propelling it off the right side of the roadway, Sanko’s rig smashed a 2004 GMC Sierra driven by Robert Dixon, 42, of Kansas City. Dixon was forced into the median before he was able to come to a complete stop.

Authorities say Sanko failed to gain control over tractor-trailer and collided with three additional vehicles including a 2009 Acura driven by Debra Nichols, 2001 Kenworth operated by Willie Mcintosh, and a 2013 Ford F350 driven by Richard Fox.

Nichols, 55, of St. Joseph and Willie Mcintosh, 53, of Mt. Grove were transported by ambulance to Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph. According to the report, both suffered minor injuries. Dixon, who also suffered minor injuries, was transported by NRAD to the North Kansas City Hospital.

Wofford, whose vehicle was the first struck, was transported to the Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph. Sanko was taken to the North Kansas City Hospital. Initially, his condition was listed as moderate. Richard Fox, 43, of Iowa, did not suffer any apparent injuries.

After the accident, the northbound lanes of Interstate 29 between Tracy and Camden Point were shut down until well after midnight to allow law enforcement agencies to conduct an investigation into the cause of the accident.

Northbound traffic was rerouted off of I-29 at the Tracy exit, over to Hwy. 371, then about five miles north to Camden Point where motorists could get back on I-29.

Jerry Wofford
Wofford was raised in Ozawkie and graduated from the Oskaloosa High School, as well as Kansas State University. He was known for being a huge K-State football fan and even took to the stands at the away games.

Wofford served in the hospitality industry for more than three decades. Upon his college graduation, Wofford took a position with Topeka Inn Management. Afterwards, Wofford worked as a senior vice president of operations with Linquest and Craig Hotels & Resorts, based out of Lawrence, Ks.

He also owned and operated Hospitality Management Enterprises from 2004 to 2011. Most recently, Wofford oversaw the management of many hotels in the Midwest region, serving as a vice-president of operations for TR Lodging Enterprises, Inc.

Wofford was married to his wife, Teresa “Terry” Smith for 46 years. Together, they raised their two children: Christopher Bishop Wofford and Tyece Minyon Wofford. Their three grandchildren live in Lenexa.