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Driver Used Heroin Before Causing Crash that Killed Him, 3 Others in Ft. Wright

The man who drove a car that crashed into another vehicle killing three others and himself, had heroin in his system, investigators announced on Monday.

The fatal collision happened on September 1 on Highland Avenue in Ft. Wright. Sgt. Ben Wilson and the Serious Traffic Accident Reconstruction (STAR) Team from the Kenton County Police Department determined that Kenneth Hartsock, 48, was headed east on Highland when he drfited into the emergency lane, struck a guard rail, and then traveled back into the roadway, across the double yellow line, and into oncoming traffic.

Hartsock's vehicle hit another car, killing Sarah Willis, 70, who was accompanied by her sister, Gloria Roaden, 72, in the passenger seat, and her husband, John Willis, 79, in the back seat. The Willises lived in Bromley and Roaden was from Ludlow.

Investigators received preliminary information indicating Hartsock had opioids in his blood at the time of the wreck. Samples were sent for testing to determine if the opioids were from heroin or prescription medication. Results of the lab testing were received this week and those results indicate Hartsock had heroin, fentanyl, and THC (marijuana) in his system at the time of the wreck. 

Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders called the wreck “the most tragic illustration of the danger of drugged driving in Kenton County history.” “We get new cases of drugged drivers every week but three innocent people lost their lives this time and that’s just horrific,” Sanders said in a news release. 

Kenton County Police Chief Spike Jones said that while it is possible that the Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller usually reserved for terminally ill patients was prescribed, it is more likely the Fentanyl was mixed in with the heroin to make the drugs more potent.

“Anytime someone uses illicit narcotics, they are at the mercy of the drug dealers when it comes to what substances are actually being consumed,” said Jones. “Oftentimes addicts get a lot more than they bargain for, and this time it was deadly.”

The deadly addition of Fentanyl to the already dangerous heroin is a well-documented practice of drug dealers looking to increase the “high” of their product. 

Fentanyl and heroin mixtures are believed to be responsible for thousands of overdose deaths across the country. Jones said witness descriptions of Hartsock’s erratic driving made investigators suspect Hartsock had overdosed while coming down Highland. “The vehicle’s path of travel suggested the driver was unconscious, we just had to figure out why,” said Jones.

An earlier report by The River City News detailed that Hartsock had been in three wrecks in five months.

Sanders and Jones both praised the work of the STAR team led by Sgt. Wilson.  “These officers are dedicated to their craft and their work is top notch,” said Sanders. 

Jones said his accident reconstructionists took the quadruple-fatality personally and were determined to find the cause. “It made no difference that the at-fault driver was deceased,” said Jones. “Even though there is no one to prosecute, it is important for the community to learn exactly what happened, especially when it has to do with heroin and drugged driving.”

Sanders said that his office has alerted law enforcement throughout Kenton County that anyone caught driving after using heroin should face felony charges, even if drugs are not found in the vehicle. “Anyone driving while high on heroin puts every other driver at risk of death or serious injury,” Sanders said, “And when they’re caught, they will face the consequences.”

Sanders said that while prosecutors try to push addicts into treatment when they are caught using, “Addicts who injure others or put innocent lives in danger will face prison sentences.”

-Staff report

Photo: Kenneth Hartsock (via Kenton Co. Detention Center)