Four-year sentence in I-80 hit-and-run death of tow-truck driver

Prison term follows no-contest plea by Newcastle’s Christopher Keller
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Emotions ran high in a North Auburn courtroom as 25-year-old Michael Keller was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for fleeing the scene of a fatal crash on Interstate 80.

Keller rarely looked up as he stared expressionless at the table in front of him during impassioned words by the family of tow-truck driver David "Davey" Robinson Jr.

Robinson had parked his bright yellow tow truck at the side of busy I-80, just west of Auburn, and was walking outside the cab March 20 when he was struck by Keller’s car in the slow lane.

Robinson, 30, of Citrus Heights, died minutes after the crash. Keller, a Newcastle resident, fled the scene. He was arrested five days later.

Fighting back tears, Robinson’s parents David Sr. and Vickie called on Judge Richard Couzens to impose the maximum sentence, while expressing concerns about public safety after Keller is eventually released from prison.

David Robinson Sr. described the sentence as a “token punishment” on a day that will bring closure for Keller.

“But it brings no end to the pain you imposed on my family,” Robinson Sr. said. “You left my son at the side of the road as if he were road kill. That speaks volumes about your character.”

     Keller had changed his plea from not guilty to one of no contest last month, agreeing to the upper term of four years in prison for the felony hit-and-run-causing-death charge.

 In an earlier report filed by the District Attorney’s Office as part of court proceedings, prosecutors stated the force of the collision almost destroyed Keller’s car windshield but he kept driving westward.

Another driver followed and called 911 before Keller exited I-80 at the Highway 193 off ramp and spun out of control, the District Attorney’s report said. The other driver gave up pursuit because Keller was driving recklessly and the 911 operator advised him to stop, the report said.

Keller would later pass the scene of an unrelated traffic accident near Foresthill, the report stated. Placer County Sheriff’s Office deputies saw the defendant driving with a smashed-out windshield but were unaware of the hit and run on I-80, the report said.

Keller parked the car at a Foresthill residence and put a tarp over the damage after telling a person who lived at the residence that he had hit a deer. A local resident saw a news report and called law enforcement after seeing the car covered by a tarp, the DA’s report said.

“Keller was questioned and confessed,” the report said. “He said he hit Davey Robinson Jr. while driving at freeway speed. He thought he wouldn’t be caught because he didn’t have license plates on his vehicle.”

Keller made no statement of his own during sentencing. His defense attorney, Richard Dudek, said afterward that Keller was never found at fault for causing the crash.

     “Nobody’s ever found him to be at fault for the accident,” Richard Dudek said. “His punishment here is simply for leaving the scene. The crime only starts to occur after the accident happened.”

     Dudek said the accident was unavoidable because Robinson had wandered into the freeway. Keller was unnerved after it happened and left the scene “which is what the crime is,” he said.

     “The conduct is from that moment on after the accident,” Dudek said.

     Vickie Robinson said she still has times when she expects her son to walk through the door or call her on the phone again.

     “These are all things you have deprived my family of having again,” Vickie Robinson said. “Give him the optimum penalty and the longer he stays in prison the greater chance that someone else’s life will be saved.”

    Afterward, Vickie Robinson said she could see no remorse from Keller as she or other family members talked.

    “Even his attorney looked like ‘How could we use some of those words, like him being a murderer,’” she said. “He gave us looks like – ‘Not right.’ But when you leave somebody on the side of the road dead, that’s considered murder.”

    The Robinsons are moving ahead with attempts to toughen up the state’s Slow Down and Move Over Law.

    “The future for us is we’re trying to do some good in David’s name with the Slow Down and Move Over Law, to get the law changed,” David Robinson Sr. said. “As it states now, it’s not to exceed a $50 fine. We need tougher penalties. We don’t want to see this happen to another family.”