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Driver's suicide called 'a tragedy on top of a tragedy'

The Des Moines Register: Driver’s suicide called ’a tragedy on top of a tragedy’

BY WILLIAM PETROSKI AND LEE ROOD • BPETROSKI@DMREG.COM • OCTOBER 31, 2009

Winterset, Ia. - An 80-year-old man who faced spending the last years of his life behind bars for the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist died Friday in an apparent suicide.

The body of Paul "Jud" McKinney, who was accused of felony charges stemming from a traffic crash near Cumming in August, was found Friday morning at his home in Winterset, authorities confirmed.

Winterset police and firefighters were called to McKinney’s home at 9:15 a.m. to investigate an alarm sounding at the house. They discovered an older man’s body, later identified as McKinney, in a car in the garage.

Authorities suspect the death was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. The body was taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Ankeny for an autopsy. Police Chief Ken Burk declined to say if a suicide note had been left.

McKinney, who suffered from macular degeneration, a deterioration of his eyesight often experienced by older adults, was scheduled to attend a pretrial court hearing Nov. 17.

He had been accused of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, obstruction of prosecution by destruction of evidence and failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle.
Authorities said his speeding truck hit cyclist Mark Grgurich, 54, of Des Moines, on Aug. 30, killing him on Warren County Road G14.

Marta Jones-Couch, a co-worker and longtime friend of Grgurich at Elements Ltd. in Des Moines, said she was saddened to hear of McKinney’s death. Grgurich’s friends had offered a $10,000 reward to find the person responsible for the fatal crash.

"We all think that this is a tragedy on top of a tragedy. It is a terrible thing," Jones-Couch said.
McKinney had been living alone. A Winterset resident for most of his life, he had cared for his wife, Betty, who has Alzheimer’s disease and now resides in a nursing home.

Prior to the crash, McKinney had coffee daily in town and was known for his friendly manner. But since the incident, he had been reclusive and wouldn’t acknowledge some people who would greet him, Winterset residents said.

Trenton Hood, a ninth-grader at Winterset High School, lived across the street from McKinney. He said he felt sadness at hearing of his neighbor’s death. He said he suspected McKinney was overwhelmed by everything that had happened to him.
"It would be too hard on anybody," Hood said. He added he especially felt sad for McKinney’s great-granddaughter who attends his school.

McKinney was released from jail in September. Police said a surveillance photograph of the truck McKinney allegedly was driving at the time of the accident helped identify him as a suspect.

Both an Iowa Department of Transportation official and McKinney’s sister, Elsie Manning, told The Des Moines Register in September that McKinney had vision problems, including being unable to see out of his left eye.
McKinney’s defense lawyer, Terry Wright of Des Moines, told the Register in September that he thought McKinney was being punished for an act that could have happened to anyone. "He’s not a threat to the public," Wright said.

Wright said Friday: "He was just a nice old gentleman who had worked hard all his life and had supported his family and done his best. This whole thing is so tragic. It is just unfathomable the way it has worked out."

Because of the vision problems in his left eye, the Iowa Department of Transportation required McKinney to have a left outside rearview mirror on any vehicle he drove.
When last tested by DOT workers, McKinney had 20/40 vision in his right eye - good enough to be allowed to drive.

McKinney had worked for 30 years as a truck foreman for the Madison County secondary roads department.

Leaving the scene of an accident without rendering aid is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The obstruction charge was an aggravated misdemeanor with a possible two-year prison term.

Warren County Attorney Bryan Tingle and Wright said the prosecutor’s case against McKinney had been in its initial stages. There had been no discussions of a plea bargain, they said.