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North Liberty Man Accepts Plea In Fatal 2011 Crash

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - A former Clear Creek Amana student has been sentenced to two years in prison for causing a 2011 car crash that killed a 14-year-old girl.

Zachary Swenka, 20, entered an Alford plea to involuntary manslaughter, which means he doesn't admit to the crime, but acknowledges that a jury would likely find him guilty.

Judge Stephen Gerard said Swenka made a conscious decision to drive at speeds near 100 mph when he was driving five students home from a cross-country practice Oct. 17, 2011, on Highway 6.
"Everybody in the car was not on board with this driving behavior," Gerard said. "Your passengers were scared and with good reason."

Swenka's car crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming minivan. Part of the left rear section of Swenka's car was torn off, ejecting and killing Lown. Swenka and the other passengers in his car were injured, as were two people in the minivan.

"For me, it feels like a slap on the wrist for what we've lost," Kelly Smith, Mackenzie's mother, said about the sentence. She cried through a victim impact statement made to a crowded courtroom full of pink, a tribute to the slain girl.

Michael Lown, Mackenzie's father, said he wore a shirt to the hearing that he hasn't worn since the day he drove up on the accident scene.

"She was a great kid. She was my best accomplishment," Lown said.
The sentencing hearing was suspended Thursday morning when Swenka refused to say he was driving at speeds far in excess of the 55-mph speed limit. After an hour-long break, the hearing resumed and Swenka adopted the Alford plea.

Swenka's attorney, Matthew Adam, asked Gerard to defer his client's prison time based on circumstances that included Swenka's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He said Swenka has given up his driver's license because he knows he's not a safe driver.

Gerard declined the lesser sentence. In addition to the two-year prison term, Gerard ordered Swenka to pay a $625 fine and victim restitution, which has not yet been defined.

Michael Lown and Kelly Smith talked about the culture of reckless driving at the Clear Creek Amana School District, which they sued in June 2012. They accused the district of, among other things, violating their own policy by failing to provide safe transportation for cross-country students to and from practice.

That suit was dismissed earlier this month.