A Williamsburg man, who hit a Whitley County Sheriff’s cruiser head-on in 2008 seriously injuring a deputy, entered a plea in circuit court Wednesday morning rather than face trial.
Jerry Ridner, 45, was initially charged with first-degree assault in connection with the incident, but entered an Alford plea to a reduced charge of second-degree assault in exchange for prosecutors recommending a 10-year prison sentence.
An Alford plea means that Ridner still maintains his innocence, but acknowledges that prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict him during a trial.
On May 26, 2008, Ridner was allegedly driving under the influence when he struck Deputy Ronnie Bowling’s police cruiser in the "S" curves on Ky. 26 near Rockholds.
Both Bowling and Ridner had to be cut free from their crashed vehicles by local volunteer firefighters following the head-on crash. Ridner was allegedly in the wrong lane when the accident occurred. He was charged with DUI and possession of an open alcoholic beverage container shortly after the crash. A Whitley County grand jury later indicted him for first-degree assault.
Bowling had to have major hip replacement surgery and other procedures due to injuries he suffered in the crash. He returned to work about nine weeks after the crash.
Circuit Judge Dan Ballou allowed Ridner to remain free on bond pending his May 3 formal sentencing hearing.
As part of the plea agreement, Ridner will also be required to pay restitution.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble said that workman’s compensation paid for all of Bowling’s medical bills, and was likely going to compensate Bowling for his loss of income while injured.
He estimated that the restitution would be less than $2,000.
Trimble said that he felt the amended charge was consistent with the facts of the case.
"In viewing the evidence, I think second-degree assault would have been the charge that the jury would have arrived at," Trimble said. "A lot of the assault statute depends on whether or not the injuries were life threatening. In this case it was a dangerous situation and he was severely injured."
If convicted of first-degree assault, Ridner could have faced up to 20 years in prison.