SIDNEY, Neb. — An Illinois man convicted of killing a Maryland family in an September 2012 crash on Interstate 80 outside of Potter has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub said Wednesday that Cheyenne County Judge Derek Weimer sentenced Josef Slezak, 37, of Rivergrove, Ill., to 60 months in prison on four counts of motor vehicle homicide, a Class III A felony, and 20 to 60 months in prison on a charge of motor vehicle homicide of an unborn child by driving recklessly, a Class IV felony.
The sentence on the motor vehicle homicide of an unborn child charge will be served consecutive to the sentence on the other counts, Schaub said. Slezak received the maximum sentence on each count charged against him.
Slezak had been charged in the Sept. 9, 2012, deaths of Diana Schmidt, 28, of Gaithersburg, Md.; her husband, Christopher Schmidt, 30; and the couple’s two children, Conner, 2 and Samuel, 3, and the couple’s unborn child, named Ethan. Diana Schmidt was pregnant at the time of the crash.
Slezak had entered a no contest plea in September in the case. As part of the plea agreement, four additional counts of felony manslaughter were dismissed.
The Schmidts were among drivers stopped on Interstate 80 as law enforcement and emergency crews responded to a semitrailer truck accident at mile marker 39 near Potter involving a fatality.
Christopher Schmidt and Diana Schmidt had been driving separate vehicles and were stopped about one mile from the crash site. Slezak drove up onto the scene at a high speed, failed to slow down for the stopped vehicles or notice emergency lights, and struck the vehicle driven by Christopher Schmidt. The force of the collision propelled Christopher Schmidt’s vehicle into Diana Schmidt’s vehicle. Diana Schmidt’s vehicle was forced underneath a semi and the vehicles were engulfed in flames.
Autopsies determined that the Schmidts and their children died of blunt force injuries.
At the time of the crash, Slezak had driven for more than 15 hours, violating commercial motor vehicle federal regulations. He also failed to observe radio traffic and other warnings that alerted drivers of the crash.