A man charged in the deaths of four people during an alleged road rage incident pleaded no contest to four charges of first-degree murder and one charge of first-degree battery in Faulkner County Circuit Court on Tuesday morning.
Russell Johnston, 31, entered the plea and was sentenced to 10 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections on each count of murder and battery, to run concurrently. He was given credit for 365 days in jail.
Johnston and James Charles Holian allegedly became involved in a road rage situation on Sept. 12, 2010, that covered nearly 8 miles and culminated in Johnston’s car crossing into oncoming traffic, striking a 2006 Ford F-150 and a 2007 Cadillac Deville.
The crash claimed the lives of Frank San Felippo, 67, and Judith Ellen San Felippo, 66, both of Sun City, Ariz.; their son, John N. San Felippo, 35, of Vilonia; and their grandson, Jersey Lee San Felippo, 10, of Vilonia; and left Marilyn San Felippo in a coma for seven days.
Johnston was partially paralyzed following the wreck.
A news release issued by the Arkansas State Police said statements from witnesses indicated the crash was a direct result of a driver pursuing a second vehicle.
Holian was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison following a jury trial last September.
Marilyn San Felippo thanked Johnston at the hearing for “taking responsibility” for his actions.
“My son, husband, mother- and father-in-law can now rest in peace,” said San Felippo.
Prosecutor Cody Hiland said his heart and prayers goes out to the family of the victims.
"(I) hope today's plea provides her with closure on the criminal case and some measure of justice, although justice is a poor substitute for the loss of four family members," Hiland said. "This was a short-sighted, selfish decision on the part of both defendants that took the lives of four people and destroyed the life of the one they left behind. Actions have consequences and when people get behind the wheel and start acting like idiots without regard to others, tragic things happen. As a result, the defendants deserve to face the most severe charge the law and evidence allow for and I'm confident that's what happened in this case."
(Megan Reynolds is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1277 or by e-mail at email@example.com. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net.)