Over a decade later, a Kansas City family is finally getting closure after Jerry Dean Smith, 44, was killed October of 2007 in a hit-and-run accident in the Northeast.
The driver, Cesar Saenz, was 17 years old at the time. Now 28, he plead guilty to the incident Friday, Jan. 4 and will serve four years in the Missouri Department of Corrections and then be turned over to immigration enforcement. He was charged with First Degree Involuntary Manslaughter and Felony Leaving the Scene of a Motor Vehicle Accident.
Court documents show that Kansas City, Missouri Police officers responded to the area of 9th street and Benton Boulevard on the evening of October 27, 2007, on the report of an injury accident. While en route to the accident, an officer traveling west on 9th Street near Bales Avenue witnessed a grey Ford Taurus sedan traveling east in the westbound lanes at a high rate of speed. That vehicle, driven by Saenz, went through the intersection of 9th and Benton, striking Smith, who was directing traffic from the previous accident. Smith, a lifelong Northeast resident, suffered fatal injuries in the crash and left behind two children.
Roughly three days later, police received a tip from the Crime Stoppers hotline that the vehicle involved in the accident belonged to a Hispanic male known as “Saesa,” and that the vehicle belonged to his mother who lived in Kansas City, Kansas.
Another Crime Stoppers report indicated that Saenz was working under an alias in the caves near I-435 and M-210. Officers responded to the cave on October 31, 2007 and took a confrontational Saenz into custody. A single key was located in his pocket at the time of his arrest, which opened the doors and was able to start the ignition of the vehicle.
Despite the evidence, authorities were unable to definitively tie Saenz to the vehicle on the night of the hit-and-run until February of 2009, when a tip led detectives to a woman identified as Saenz’s girlfriend at the time of the fatal incident.
A warrant for Saenz’s arrest was filed on March 31, 2009, but Saenz managed to evade authorities until June 22, 2018, when he was finally served with the warrant.
Upon the January 2019 guilty plea, Saenz’s attorneys provided the following statement:
“Mr. Saenz entered into a guilty plea today for four years in the Missouri Division of Adult Institutions. He accepted responsibility for his reckless actions that occurred on October 27, 2007, which caused the death of Jerry Smith. It is important to remember that the motor vehicle accident occurred when Cesar Saenz was a 17-year-old child. Today, a 29-year-old man, he is a husband and a father who truly regrets not stopping after the accident. He apologized in Court to the Smith family and to his family for the pain that has been endured as a result of his reckless choices. James Smith, the victim’s son, and Cesar Saenz shared an emotional hug after the Court accepted the guilty plea and pronounced sentence. Justice was served today for all those involved and thank God the healing process may begin.”