One by one, the witnesses Tuesday morning provided emotionally charged testimony to jurors about never-ending loss and grief from a life-changing night 374 days ago.
The mothers of two teens killed in a car crash last October were followed by one of the fathers and two teen survivors in the Radcliff crash caused by a West Virginia man fleeing police.
The group shed many tears, and even offered a few smiles, when talking about their children and friends a day after the same jury found Shawn Welsh of Marion, West Virginia, guilty of two counts of murder in the Oct. 20, 2018, deaths of Jacob Barber, 18, and Katarina Peeters, 17, and two counts of first-degree assault for the serious injuries suffered by backseat passengers Macie McMillen, 15, and Cameron Brown, 17.
“Kat was like my best friend,” Brown said. “She was the first person I would talk to when I woke up and the last person I would talk to before I went to bed. Now I don’t talk to anyone. I mostly stay in my room.
“ ... I loved Kat so much,” he continued. “I would do anything to have her back.”
Peeters’ mother, Karoline Meadows, said her daughter planned to attend Murray State University and study psychology. The family intended to move to that area of the state so “we could all be together.”
“This has shown me there’s something worse than death,” Meadows said. “Having to get up every day and live without your child.”
After deliberating about three hours, the jury recommended four consecutive life sentences plus 43 years for Welsh. He is eligible for parole, according to state law, after serving 20 years.
Peeters and Barber were dead at the crash scene at the intersection of U.S. 31W and Battle Training Road as Welsh crashed a stolen Silverado he was driving an estimated 75 mph in the southbound emergency lane of 31W. He collided with a vehicle driven by Barber as he attempted to pull onto the highway. Welsh was attempting to flee three police agencies and had entered the emergency lane to get around traffic that was stopped at a red light during a 21-mile, 18 minute chase that began in Meade County.
The teens had been at a trunk-or-treat event at John Hardin High School and left after a scheduled dance had been delayed. They planned to return to the school after driving around, McMillen said.
She said she is burdened by guilt.
“When I remember it (the crash), I don’t feel sadness or anger,” McMillen said. “It’s just guilt. ... It feels so unfair. I have the opportunity to finish school and live out my dreams.”
Sharon Combs, Barber’s mother, said life since the crash is “very incomplete.”
“He was a great kid,” she said. “I lost my son. I lost my grandkids.” She said he planned to be a welder.
“It will never be the same,” she said.
A jury of nine women and three men deliberated less than an hour to find Welsh, 37, guilty of all charges against him. He also was convicted of first-degree possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine; receiving stolen property less than $10,000 and first-degree fleeing or evading police in a motor vehicle.
Welsh, who previously had been convicted of six felonies, also was convicted of being a first-degree persistent felony offender, which enhanced the first-degree assault charge to a Class A felony, punishable by 20 to 50 years, or life in prison.
Welsh read from a letter Tuesday, apologizing to the families and victims.
He blamed his addiction to methamphetamine for many of his actions, saying his drug habit “skyrocketed” in 2017. He said he used methamphetamine daily for about two years, sometimes multiple times a day.
“I pray every night that in some way your pain is eased, because I know it can’t be taken away,’’ he read. “I know I can’t ask you to forget what I’ve done, and I feel that asking you for forgiveness would not be fair.
“Maybe one day there may be forgiveness for the lives I have ruined.”
Under questioning from Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young, Welsh said he and his then girlfriend, Laura Neville, 37, of Morgantown, West Virginia, planned to drive to Utah but ended up in this area.
Asked why he was fleeing from police, he said he couldn’t give a reason.
Young asked him why he sought money from phone calls at the Hardin County Detention Center for a social media fund, which Young said was called Free Shawn Welsh.
Welsh said he was trying to get family and others to reach out to him.
Joseph Peeters, Katarina’s father, said she was his only child and the last year has been “pure hell.”
Joseph said he thinks about how he won’t one day be a grandfather or see his daughter go to prom or give her away on her wedding day.
“I’m lost,” he said.
Katarina Peeters was a senior at John Hardin High School, while Barber had attended John Hardin and graduated from Hardin County High School. Brown and McMillen attend John Hardin.
“They were two really quirky kids that would do anything for you,” Meadows said of her daughter and Barber.
Young said the stiff penalty sent a message to the public.
Referring to his wife, who is an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney, Young said, “There’s a reason why me and Teresa moved here. People have a belief in right and wrong, especially with senseless acts.”
The prosecutor also expressed compassion for the families.
“I feel awful for these families,” he said. “By them sitting through it (the trial), it answers some questions they might have had and maybe helps with some closure.”
Formal sentencing is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Dec. 10 in Hardin Circuit Court.