Trucker pleads not guilty in runaway semi case

By The Mercury

Times News Service

WESTMORELAND — A Salina man accused of threatening motorists with the semi he was driving entered pleas of not guilty to 11 charges Thursday morning, including a charge of attempted second-degree murder.

Robert Lee Smith entered the pleas during an arraignment in Pottawatomie County District Court.

The charges against Smith carry a combined maximum penalty of up to 366 months in prison and/or jail, and up to $904,000 in fines, according to District Judge Jeff Elder, who read the charges and potential penalties after the pleas were entered.

Elder set a court date of 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, to hear motions in the case.

Smith, who remains in the Pottawatomie County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bond, is accused of threatening motorists in three counties with the semi tractor-trailer he was driving the night of October 7, 2011.

Smith is accused of using the semi to force motorists off of Interstate 70 and K-99 in Shawnee, Wabaunsee and Pottawatomie Counties.

Near Louisville, he allegedly rammed a compact car driven by a Frankfort woman and chased the vehicle through private property just north of the K-99 and Louisville Rd. intersection. Smith was apprehended at the scene by police and sheriff’s deputies after the semi became mired in mud at a construction site.

The woman, as well as three occupants of another vehicle, were taken to Wamego City Hospital and treated for minor injuries following the incidents.

In addition to attempted second-degree murder––which carries a sentence of between 38 and 172 months in prison and a fine of up to $300,000––Smith is charged with possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, aggravated battery, aggravated assault (two counts), fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal damage to property, (two counts), and reckless driving.

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