Drunk driver's guilty plea helps bring Louisville family closure

Ruthie Maier
Ruthie Maier
Julie Ryan
Julie Ryan
Hayley Ryan (Source: Julie Ryan/WAVE 3 Archives)
Hayley Ryan (Source: Julie Ryan/WAVE 3 Archives)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Closure has finally come for a Louisville family with a guilty plea in a story WAVE 3 News has followed from the beginning. An Alabama man has admitted he drove drunk, killing an 8-year-old Louisville girl and severely injuring her father.

On December 17, 2010, young Hayley Ryan, her mom Julie, dad Rick were headed to Julie's parent's home in Cullman, Alabama for the Christmas holiday. That's when police say 46-year-old Kenneth Burns, a man with a history of DUI's slammed into the family's car killing Hayley and severely injuring Rick.

"It destroyed a family," said friend Ruthie Maier of the deadly crash, "and it destroyed a lot of people around that family."

As we have previously reported, Julie began undergoing cancer treatments before the crash. She told us she was amazed by the strength her young daughter provided her.

In a surprise move Monday, Burns pleaded guilty to murder.

Julie tells WAVE 3, "The state of Alabama has never had a DUI case end with a conviction of murder." She continued, "We took it (the deal) to keep from having to go to trial and having to re-live it all over again and we saw him sentenced and taken away in handcuffs." She told us, " It was very emotional, but we were happy to have it over with. "

Maier is relieved Burns was sentenced to 20 years, but is sad that it took the death of a child to get the drunk driver off the road.

"In my opinion, it's still not enough because he took the life of a little girl that had a long life and a hopefully a successful life ahead of her," said Maier.

The deal also helps Julie who unfortunately is now back in chemotherapy.

"I'm glad it's over with for her because the stress of worrying about what was going to happen at the trial was a major ordeal for her," Maier said.

Burns has the possibility of parole after serving eight years.

Julie is now living in Alabama with her family. Maier said e-mails and Facebook messages from friends here in Louisville are providing her friend great support.

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