BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WKRN) – It would be a case that caught the attention of Middle Tennessee. For the first time, a Brentwood police officer was killed in the line of duty.
What began as a drive home after ending his shift would end in a drunk driver hitting Officer Destin Legeiza head-on.
Days would play out in court before the driver was found guilty.
Now, Legeiza’s mother reflected on the past year since the driver’s sentencing, and how future DUIs may be handled inside courtrooms.
“Destin was the best,” said Julie Ray as she started to cry. “I knew I would do this.”
For as long as she could remember, Ray said if you knew her son, you would understand how he would often ask for advice. When it came to his career, it was no different.
“Should I be a firefighter? Should I be a police officer? Mom, what should I do?” Ray remembered. “So, ultimately he decided he wanted to be a police officer.”
Then came the next decision – where would he serve?
“Brentwood is fairly a safe community. You don’t hear a lot of stuff in Brentwood. It’s in Williamson County where, you know, where I live and where he grew up, so I was really happy about that,” Ray explained.
Legieza would be remembered as a charming person, from his smile to his charisma and work ethic.
“He’s the type of person that would make you want to be a police officer, and to be that kind of police officer,” said Officer Tim Finney, who sat down with News 2 shortly after Legieza’s death in 2020.
Legieza grew up in Franklin and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. The Middle Tennessee native was easily considered one of the biggest fans of the Tennessee Titans.
Fellow officers drove Legieza to his final resting place and passed the Titans stadium so he could see it one last time.
“I would have never imagined that a drunk driver would end his life,” said Ray.
Shortly after the crash that would end Legieza’s life, law enforcement would arrest 24-year-old Ashley Kroese. Investigators said her blood alcohol level was 0.166, twice the legal limit.
“You don’t expect to get a phone call that your 30-year-old son has been in a car crash at 5 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday morning, and I remember people saying, ‘I bet they were drunk. I bet they were drunk,'” Ray said.
A video would later show Brentwood Police Officer Brian Fletcher’s point of view from his patrol vehicle. He was one of the first ones to respond to the crash.
In the video, you can see Fletcher run to Legieza’s car. Debris from the crash covered the ground. Fletcher described seeing Legieza laying over the steering wheel during his testimony in court. He said he called out his name, but received no response.
The video would then show Fletcher running to Kroese’s vehicle. He explained how she was screaming and moaning.
EMTs were called to the scene.
The timeline of that morning would play out in court.
“It just so happened he was on patrol. He was ending his shift to go home and park his patrol car and go home,” said Ray. “You have a lot of what if’s, you know? If only he had taken a different route, but the ultimate if only is if only she hadn’t gotten behind the wheel.”
Footage from traffic cameras in Brentwood, taken the morning of June 18, 2020, would show images of what appeared to be Kroese’s Jeep Liberty driving the wrong way down Franklin Road without headlights on, moments before she crashed head-on into Legieza’s patrol vehicle.
“When I go to that dark place, when I see those images of the crash and think that that’s where my son took his last breath, and I wasn’t able to be there for him,” Ray cried. “I wasn’t able to just comfort him and tell him it’s going to be okay.”
During the trial, Tennessee Highway Patrol experts who analyzed the data recorder said it was clear Legieza did not have time to react at the time of the crash.
The trial would bring about debate on Kroese’s alcohol level at the time of the incident. A lab report indicated that her blood had a 0.166 alcohol level concentration. However, an expert would take the stand, stating it would take a 150-pound person about seven to nine drinks to get to that level.
The defense on cross-examination painted a picture of a long night of drinking and asked how long it would take to eliminate alcohol from the system.
In the end, Kroese was found guilty of three counts of vehicular homicide and reckless aggravated assault resulting in death. She would be sentenced to eight years behind bars.
However, even with the sentence, she would only be required to serve a little more than two years.
A little over a year after the trial, Ray still wonders if her son’s case will make a difference in future courtrooms.
“You have to be held accountable. The laws for DUIs, it’s a misdemeanor, and it’s only when they cause loss of life, like in the case of Destin, that there’s punishment. Well, then you have to go to trial. You have to relive all of that again; it’s horrible,” said Ray. “[Destin] didn’t get the opportunity to just lay down and pass away; he died in a horrible, a horrible way, and it’s because of somebody making a bad decision and we can’t get him back. So until there’s really accountability for those actions, it’s just going to keep happening.”