2012-04-12 / Front Page

Attorney general admits mistake in press release of islander’s death

BY TIM RIEL

In a press release last week detailing why the attorney general decided not to criminally charge twin boys involved in a traffic accident in which two people died, there was one conspicuous mistake: who was driving the victims’ vehicle.

According to the press release that was sent to the Jamestown Press and the Newport Daily News on March 30, “At approximately 10:43 p.m. on Oct. 21, two cars collided on the Newport Bridge. A black Chevrolet Malibu, driven by [Kenneth] Prior, with [Kathleen] Meunier as the passenger, was headed west towards Jamestown. The other vehicle, a silver Honda traveling east, was operated by a 16-year-old, with his twin brother as the passenger. The vehicle driven by the juvenile veered across the center double line and into westbound lane, striking the Malibu.”

In a letter to the attorney general’s office from David Prior, Kenneth’s brother, following the publication of the release in the April 5 edition of the Press, Prior wrote, “By now, I expect that you realize that the attorney general’s press release relating to the deaths of my brother Kenny and his friend and coworker Kathy Meunier contains at least one glaring error, and one equally glaring omission. At the time of the collision, the Meunier vehicle was driven by Kathy Meunier, and not my brother. My brother was developmentally disabled and never drove a car.”

Amy Kempe, a spokesperson from the attorney general’s office admitted the mistake, telling the Press, “My apologies for the error. [David Prior] is correct. Kathleen Meunier was driving the vehicle that was struck. While it is no excuse for such an error, the statement was reviewed by more than a few people in the office and we all missed that mistake.” Kempe said that it wasn’t a press release that was sent to a number of media outlets, just the two local newspapers as a courtesy.

John A. Murphy, the Prior family attorney, said that the fact that the error was missed by a number of employees in the state office makes it more implausible. Just as bad, Murphy said, is that the press release inferred that the defendant pleaded nolo contendere to the charge. Murphy said that the teen pled guilty to speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road.

In Prior’s letter to the attorney general, he wrote, “Because of the lack of specificity of the press release, we have seen numerous reports that the driver pled no contest to the charges. This, of course, is not the case. In our view, this serious error and omission characterize the entire approach of the [attorney general’s office] in this matter.”

Kempe said that because the case was heard in traffic court, pleas can be a “little quirky.” She said that the defendant did admit to the violations, but the release didn’t specify one way or another. “We didn’t write that he pled no contest or nolo and we had no intentions of implying that he did. We’re sorry if it came off that way.”

In his letter, Prior said that the attorney general’s office “stonewalled” the victims’ families for five months and showed no compassion. Said Kempe, “It was a tragedy and we continue to send our condolences.”

Prior said the error – along with not criminally charging the teenage driver – is reprehensible and caused his own family much heartache. “The serious mistake by the attorney general’s office has caused more pain for my family and stress for my mother,” Prior told the Press. “During Easter weekend, my mother received numerous calls and visits from people asking why Kenny was driving that night and asking whether he was at fault in some way.”

He continued, “I was in Jamestown last weekend, and numerous people asked me how the attorney general’s office could be so careless with the facts. They have also urged me to correct the record so people in Jamestown can know the truth.”

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