Teen Arrested in Connection with Clear Creek Amana Student's Death
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A 19-year-old former Clear Creek Amana High School student has been arrested in connection with a deadly accident that killed 14-year-old Mackenzie Lown after witnesses said he bragged about driving fast and laughed when asked to slow down.
Zachary Swenka was arrested Thursday evening on suspicion of vehicular homicide. He left the Johnson County Jail on his own recognizance Friday morning.
According to an Iowa State Patrol complaint, Swenka was driving a 1996 Chevrolet Lumina on Highway 6 near Kent Park on about 5:15 on Oct. 17. Swenka is accused of driving 100 mph in a 55 mph zone, according to the complaint.
Swenka, who had five passengers in his car, had “previously bragged about how fast he can drive,” according to the complaint.
“Several of the passengers asked (Swenka) to slow down,” troopers reported. “He laughed and did not slow down.”
Swenka is accused of losing control of his vehicle, crossing the center line and colliding with an oncoming minivan, according to the Iowa State Patrol.
Part of the left rear section of Swenka’s car was torn off, and Lown was ejected, causing fatal injuries, according to previous police reports. The students were going from cross country practice at Kent Park to the high school at the time, according to Lown’s parents.
The State Patrol wrapped up its investigation in the early summer and passed the case over to the Johnson County Attorney’s Office in June for consideration of charges, according to County Attorney Janet Lyness.
Lown’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Swenka in February but dismissed that in June and filed a replacement lawsuit against the Clear Creek Amana School District.
In their lawsuit, Michael Lown and Kelly Smith accuse the district, among other things, of violating their own policy by failing to provide safe transportation for cross-country students to and from practice.
At the time of the crash, according to the lawsuit, Mackenzie Lown and Swenka, then 18, were members of the Clear Creek Amana cross country team, which periodically held practices at Kent Park, outside Tiffin.
Even though district policy required “transportation of a student for student purposes to be in a district-owned vehicle driven by a school bus driver,” the district didn’t provide school-issued transportation for the team’s commute between the high school and Kent Park, according to the lawsuit.
Instead, the district used licensed student team members to provide rides in their personal vehicles to younger students, the lawsuit states. In fact, the district “requested, encouraged, relied on or allowed older students with driver’s licenses and vehicles to provide transportation to younger students” headed to off-site locations, according to the lawsuit.
The district also is accused of having had a policy in place regarding the use of private vehicles to transport students. It stated that people only were allowed to transport students for school purposes in private vehicles when “parents of the students to be transported have given written permission to the superintendent,” according to the lawsuit.
Michael Lown and Smith state in the suit that the district didn’t ask for or obtain their permission for their daughter to ride with Swenka or any other teammates to and from practice.
Still, on Oct. 17 after a cross country practice at Kent Park, Swenka took five other team members – including freshmen member Mackenzie Lown – in his 1996 Chevrolet Lumina from Kent Park toward the high school, according to the lawsuit.
He was traveling at an “extremely high rate of speed while traveling an ‘S’ curve and crossing a bridge,” according to the couple’s earlier lawsuit against Swenka. They estimate the teen was going 100 mph in a 55 mph zone when he veered right and then left, crossing the center line and colliding with a minivan, according to the original lawsuit.
Michael Lown and Smith are suing the school district for fault, claiming it failed to provide and assure safe transportation for their daughter, used Swenka to provide transportation without ensuring it was safe and without getting parental permission and failed to supervise the teens during practice.
The district also is liable, according to the lawsuit, because by allowing Swenka to drive cross country team members to and from practice, it was allowing Swenka to act an employee.
The parents are demanding a jury trial for their losses, including pain and suffering, loss of estate accumulation by virtue of her early death, and interest and funeral and burial expenses.
The couple’s original lawsuit named Swenka, accused him of operating his vehicle recklessly, driving at an excessive speed and failing to maintain control.
Iowa State Patrol troopers said all of the teenagers in Swenka’s car at the time of the crash were hurt. Chloe Keith, 14, Dustin Cox, 14, Daniel Brechtel, 15 and Swenka were taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics by ambulance.
Claire Riggan, 14, was airlifted to the hospital, according to troopers.
The two people in the minivan – Bryan Scott Cooling, 47, and Toni Harney Cooling, 42, both of Oxford – also were injured and hospitalized. The current conditions of those who were injured is unknown.
At least a dozen Clear Creek Amana High School students witnessed the crash. Lown’s high school peers created a Facebook page honoring the teen. Friends continue to post remembrances to that page, and Michael Lown is backing an effort to change the state law regarding the number of passengers a teenage driver can have in a car at one time.
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