Man pleads guilty in death of firefighter, could be free in Feb. with 28-month sentence

Man pleads guilty to killing firefighter

MORGANTON, NC (WBTV) - In October of 2017, volunteer firefighter Jason Hensley answered a late night call after a storm passed through in Burke County. He was out along Highway 70 in Drexel clearing debris off the road, standing next to his fire truck, wearing reflective clothing with lights flashing around him.

Without warning a pickup came barreling in. The fire truck was hit, and so was Jason. He died at the scene. The driver of the pickup, Randall Stewart, was charged with felony death by vehicle and driving while impaired. Troopers believed he was high on drugs at the time. The smell of marijuana, they said, was in the truck and a pipe and and some marijuana was found as well.

Stewart admitted to them and reporters that he had smoked some earlier in the day. Even so, doctors felt he was not impaired and as time went on, many charges went away. On Tuesday, the case for him being a habitual felon also was dismissed.

That left only a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Stewart pleaded guilty to that and was handed a sentence of 28-43 months, the maximum term allowed given his record.

“It does sting a bit, “ said firefighter Farrel Duplain, a friend of the victim.

The sentence, Duplain said, may not be justice in the case but he understood the constraints the judge was under. He was hoping for a stiffer sentence and so was the family, he said.

With credit for time already served, Stewart could be free as early as February. Firefighter Matthew Franklin doesn’t think that is justice.

“I think he deserved to rot in jail,” he said.

Franklin says all he can do now is be there for the family and remember the victim, who he says was a dedicated public servant and a true hero.

Whenever anyone at the fire department called Jason, says Franklin, “He would drop everything and come and help us.”

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