AMERICAN FORK — A repo man convicted of killing a woman whose car he was trying to repossess was sentenced to the Utah State Prison on Tuesday.
Going against a sentencing recommendation that was agreed on by both prosecutors and the defense as part of a plea deal, 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen ordered Kenneth Lee Drew, 50, of American Fork, to serve 1 to 15 years in prison.
Drew pleaded guilty in November to manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in the death of 35-year-old Ashleigh Holloway Best. As part of the plea deal, the prosecution said it would recommend jail time for Drew but a suspended prison sentence.
Deputy Utah County attorney Jared Perkins admitted he was surprised with Lunnen's sentence even though the judge was not bound to follow the recommendation of the attorneys.
"So we knew there was a possibility that the judge would go his own way and make his own finding and make his own ruling, which is what ended up happening. I was a little surprised by it, not that it was not warranted in this case,” he said.
Perkins was also surprised that Lunnen, who is only in his second week of being a Utah judge, allowed Drew to walk out of the courtroom and report to the Utah County Jail by 8:30 a.m. next Tuesday to be transported to prison.
"He made the observation that Mr. Drew has been responsible and shown up to all of his hearings and taken care of matters in an appropriate way in this case, so he allowed him time to get his affairs into order,” Perkins said.
A solemn Drew left the courthouse without saying a word to reporters.
Best's husband, who at one point during the emotional hearing was bent over in his seat with his hands on his head and sobbing uncontrollably, said it was the right sentence.
"I’m extremely happy. I think that the facts of the case couldn’t be overlooked. The facts are that he chased my wife 12 blocks, put her into a tree and killed her. And he has to answer for that. My answering is I lost my wife. My wife lost her life. My children have lost their parents. I’m just a shell of what I was. Today, there is just a little victory,” Brennen Best said.
On May 17, 2016, Drew, an employee of On Demand Repos, was attempting to repossess Best's 2002 Lincoln Navigator from her driveway in Pleasant Grove. He agreed to wait a moment while she and her husband looked into updating their payment plan. While he waited, Best hopped in the car and took off.
Drew took off after her and chased her for 12 blocks with speeds reaching almost 70 mph through winding residential streets that have a 30-mph speed limit. The chase ended when Best's car hopped the curb — allegedly forced off the road by Drew's tow truck — and slammed into a tree.
Before being sentenced, all sides agreed in court that Drew did not intentionally kill Ashleigh Best, and that she could have also made better decisions that night.
"There was lots of mistakes made that night. Ashleigh paid with her life," Brennen Best said. "I don’t think what was done was on purpose. But I do believe we all need to be accountable for our own actions."
Drew also addressed the court before being sentenced, saying he wanted closure so both families can “pick up the pieces and move on."
"My heart goes out to the Best family,” he said. "There was no intent for anything to happen.
"I know what happened that night and I can’t point fingers," he later continued.
Before issuing his sentence, Lunnen said the case was difficult because a life was not taken intentionally. But Drew did act with reckless disregard of another person, he said.
"Even when we make decisions in split seconds, we have to take responsibility for things we do," he said.
The courtroom was packed with friends and family members of both Drew and Best. The Best family carried pictures of Ashleigh with them. Letters from other family members who could not attend the hearing were read to the court, including one from Ashleigh's stepdaughter, who said her birth mother was a drug addict.
"I truly felt safe for the first time in my life,” she said of when Ashleigh became her mother. "I don’t know what I did do to deserve her. I don’t know where I ‘d have ended up without her.
"There are so many things we planned to do together and now we’ll never get the chance,” she continued in her letter to the court.
She later wrote about her father, Brennen Best, saying "You can’t go a day without seeing the heartache in his face. He just kind of exists, he isn’t living."
When it was his turn to speak, Best told the court: "My life was ruined on May 17. I lost everything."