Kenneth Morang, in court with attorney Amy Fairfield on Monday, is charged with manslaughter in the death of 9-year-old Raelynn Bell after he fell asleep at the wheel and his truck crashed into the car she was riding in Gorham in 2019. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The former corrections officer who fell asleep at the wheel and caused a crash that killed a 9-year-old girl testified in his defense Wednesday, saying that he was not too tired to drive that afternoon.

Kenneth Morang, 64, said he remembers the drive home from the Cumberland County Jail to Standish, but does not recall the moments just before he rear-ended a family’s SUV on July 21, 2019. The driver had taken his three daughters to see “The Lion King,” and they were stopped in a left-hand turn lane when Morang crashed into their Honda Pilot, trapping Raelynn Bell in the third row seat.

She was taken via LifeFlight helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she died of a traumatic brain injury days later.

Morang took the stand in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland on Wednesday and acknowledged that he worked long hours at the jail, but said he’s always taken on extra shifts, frequently logging up to 100 hours per week, and that he knew the difference between feeling tired and being too tired to drive.

“I’ve driven tired enough to know,” Morang said. “I would have pulled over, gone to a store, gotten a soda, walked around.”

“But you didn’t have that feeling that day?” asked his attorney, Amy Fairfield.


“No, ma’am,” Morang said.

During opening statements, Fairfield said the case hinges not on Morang’s admission that he was behind the wheel and may have fallen asleep, but on whether he knew he was too tired to drive and did it anyway – the guilty state of mind required under the law to find that he acted recklessly or with criminal negligence.

Prosecutors allege that Morang knew he was exhausted but got behind the wheel anyway, and had a duty to pull over and stop driving when he nearly struck a tractor-trailer head-on just before the fatal crash. They argue he was motivated by a desire to increase his pension.

Had he felt that he was too exhausted, Morang said he would have asked for a ride home. Immediately after the crash, Morang told people on the scene that he didn’t know what happened, and said he may have dozed off or passed out. He faces one count of manslaughter, a Class A felony.

During questioning from Fairfield, Morang said he has a 10th-grade education, married young, spent 15 years in the Air Force and gravitated to corrections after a stint as an office manager for Young’s Furniture in Portland.

Throughout his career he did not shy from long hours and said he had never taken a sick day. Earlier in the day, co-workers at the jail testified that Morang was known as the man to call when someone needed a shift covered. They said Morang never talked about money, complained or seemed exhausted or ill-tempered while on the job. He was chipper, they said, and a rock-steady worker.


Morang told the jury he felt like the jail staff were his brothers, that they looked out for each other and he considered his time at work as a way he socialized. One co-worker, Lt. Scott Jordan, lived with Morang for about six months around 2014, and said Morang’s life gravitated around three things: spending time with his granddaughters, fishing and work.


Morang’s testimony also contradicted other witness recollections presented Monday and Tuesday. Morang said he has no recollection of swerving across the centerline and into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler less than a mile before the crash, as a witness testified Monday.

“If I had to correct my steering to avoid an 18-wheeler, I’d remember it,” Morang said during cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Thaddeus West, and said he does not think that happened at all.

“Well you don’t remember a collision that killed a girl,” West said, before Fairfield rose to object.

Later, West concluded his cross-examination with a simple question.


“Do you feel responsible for this?” West asked.

“Absolutely,” Morang said.

Morang’s wife and daughter also testified Wednesday and contradicted testimony of lead investigator Detective Sgt. Daniel Young, who told jurors on Monday that he spoke with Morang at Maine Medical Center hours after the crash, that they discussed his pension, his pay and his hours during a conversation in a cramped hospital room.

Young said Morang asked his family to step out of the room for their conversation, but Morang’s wife, Eve, and his daughter, Amy, along with Morang’s two adult grandchildren, said that was not true. The four family members stepped out so two police officers could draw Morang’s blood. The room was too small for six or seven people, they said, and they were steps away and could hear the entire conversation.

Eve Morang and Amy Mejias both said that at first they believed Young was a friend of Morang’s, and that Young told Morang not to worry, there would be no charges, it was clearly an accident. The criminal charges were a shock for that reason, they testified.


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