OZARK, Mo. -- A man from Purdy who pleaded guilty for a drunken driving crash that killed a girl received a 20-year prison sentence for second-degree murder and two concurrent five-year prison sentences for second-degree assault. Gregory Swaffar admitted he killed a 10-year-old girl in February 2011 in Barry County.
Swaffar was drunk when he drove his truck across the center line on Missouri 37 and hit another vehicle. The wreck killed Melissa Kief of Washburn and seriously injured two others.
Swaffar had two previous convictions for driving drunk in 2010. One was for "excessive blood alcohol content" for a Cassville municipal law violation, after a stop by a Cassville police officer on May 21, 2010. The other was a misdemeanor DWI in Barry County associate circuit court after a stop by a state trooper on July 25, 2010.
Swaffar's case was moved from Barry County to Christian County to try to ensure a fair outcome. Circuit Judge Mark Orr sentenced Swaffar on Wednesday afternoon. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 2.
In court Wednesday, Melissa Kief's family shared the pain of nearly two years without her. "Melissa was dear to my heart. There wasn't a day she didn't kiss me goodbye when I went to work,' said Melissa's grandfather, Kenneth Kief, Sr.
Her grandmother Arenda Kief said, "I'm so sorry you took away my future; I've always said I couldn't wait to find out what kind of woman she would become. She loved so many things. She loved music; we would dance around the house singing."
The accident that took her life was a head on crash with Gregory Swaffer, who was driving drunk. "I'm so sorry we're sitting here today. I'm so sorry that you had 3 chances you were given that you thought you were above the law and thought you didn't have to have a driver's license, insurance, or a tagged vehicle to drive," said Arenda Kief.
Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox said, "He intentionally drank all that beer. He intentionally drove that truck. He intentionally did what he wanted to do that night, and the tragedy is that he didn't get away with it that night. There's probably dozens and dozens and dozens of other nights that he did somehow make it home."
Melissa's father, Kenneth Kief, Jr., who was seriously injured in the wreck, says, "Drinking and driving does and can kill people. This is a result of it."
Asking the judge for a lenient sentence, Swaffar's mother shared about her son's childhood with an abusive, alcoholic father, his ability to hold a job as an adult, and the time he's losing with his own four-year old son.
"If I could go back and change things, I would in a heartbeat. The fact is we can't change the past, only the future. I'm praying for you, and just ask forgiveness in your hearts," Swaffar said to the Keif family.
"He had multiple chances prior to that and he blew it. And now it is too late to say you're sorry," said Cox.
The Kief family's hope is that Melissa's story will make a difference. "That this story makes an impact on other people," says Kenneth Kief, Jr.
The prosecutor had asked for a 25 year sentence; the defense a more lenient ten years. Melissa's family believes the 20 year sentence given by Judge Mark Orr is fair.Online court records show Kenneth Kief, the father of Melissa Kief, sued Swaffar in 2011 for damages for the injuries that Kenneth Kief sustained, and for the wrongful death of his daughter. Swaffar didn't contest the case and a Lawrence County judge awarded the plaintiff $1 million for Kenneth Kief's injuries and $2 million for Melissa Kief's death.
Kenneth Kief sued Swaffar again last year to try to obtain some real estate belonging to Swaffar to satisfy some of the judgment from the civil case. A trial is scheduled for July 3, according to online court records.