Judge Upholds Prison Sentence for Man Who Killed Classmate in 2011 Crash

By Erin Jordan, Reporter

Zachary Swenka views photos of the accident with his defense attorney, Matthew Adam, during his arraignment at the Johnson County District Court on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in Iowa City, for involuntary manslaughter in the 2011 death of Mackenzie Lown, 14. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa - A Johnson County judge upheld the two-year prison sentence of a North Liberty man who killed a Clear Creek Amana student in a 2011 collision on Highway 6 near Tiffin.

Zachary Swenka, 20, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Oct. 24.

He was driving five Clear Creek students home from a cross-country practice Oct. 17, 2011, when he started speeding, crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming van. Swenka's car was torn apart, ejecting and killing Mackenzie Lown, 14.

Swenka returned to court Monday to ask Associate District Judge Stephen Gerard to reconsider his sentence. Swenka’s new attorney, Leon Spies, asked Gerard to put Swenka on probation after serving less than a month.

Spies presented new information that included letters, doctors’ reports and an opinion from an accident reconstructionist who believes Swenka was only driving 70 to 77 mph, as opposed to the 100 mph estimated by state investigators.

“There were serious flaws in the examination of the accident by the Iowa State Patrol,” Spies said.

Lown’s parents made statements to the court about their desire for Swenka to own up to his role in their daughter’s death. “It’s time to accept responsibility and deal with your punishment,” said Kelly Smith, Lown’s mother.

In front of about 50 people – mostly Lown’s family and friends – Gerard took about 10 minutes to review the new documents. He ruled Swenka’s sentence of two years was appropriate.

“Thirty days in prison or two years in prison is not equivalent to the loss of a life,” Gerard said. “Zachary will learn from this experience. (Prison) may ultimately help Zachary accept the consequences of his conduct. He will come home to his family and the victim will not, ever.”

Regardless of how much Swenka was exceeding the speed limit, he was still driving recklessly when others in the car told him to slow down, Gerard said.

The Clear Creek Amana School District paid Lown’s family $300,000 in October to settle a lawsuit over her death. The district, which denied liability in the Lown settlemen, is also facing a lawsuit by Bryan and Toni Cooling, of Oxford. The Coolings were injured when their minivan was struck by Swenka.
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