Is there justice for a felon?
By ANDREW MCGINN | email@example.com
Knowing the full story, it’s difficult not to see a routine order issued back on Jan. 14 by District Associate Judge Joseph McCarville as macabre, even bordering the dystopian.
“It is reported,” McCarville stated in his Greene County district court ruling, “that Defendant has satisfactorily complied with the conditions of supervision.”
Travis Fincel, whose long association with addiction had produced another three years’ of probation in 2019 on his third or subsequent possession charge, was officially a free man — but only because he was dead.
Fincel, 46, never regained consciousness from a Dec. 15 hit-and-run near Sandoe Street East and 16th Street North in Grand Junction.
His large, extended family made the decision to remove his artificial life support, and on Jan. 7, Fincel slipped away at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.
The driver of the pickup that struck Fincel about 8:10 p.m. Dec. 15 was located that night by law enforcement just up the street at Casey’s. He was aware that he hit Fincel, Greene County Sheriff Jack Williams later told The Jefferson Herald — he just thought he “grazed” him.
More than four months later, charges have yet to be filed in the incident, and the driver has since hit a light pole in Grand Junction, leading Fincel’s former girlfriend to warn that the pole could have been another person.
Fincel’s loved ones can’t help but speculate how different things may have been had the situation on Dec. 15 been reversed.
“If it was Travis who hit somebody, he’d still be sitting in jail,” said Tina King, of Rippey, Fincel’s former girlfriend, co-parent and best friend. “It’s not fair.”
She’s growing skeptical that authorities are giving their all to an investigation in which the victim was a felon and a drug addict.
“I really don’t understand what’s to investigate,” King, 42, said. “You hit him. He died. You drove away.
“You drove away and didn’t even think twice about him. What kind of person does that?”
Instead, the driver, 72-year-old Robert Kinnick, of Grand Junction, is still on the road.
On Jan. 11, according to court records, Kinnick was cited by Boone police during a traffic stop at U.S. Highway 30 and South Story Street for failure to provide proof of financial liability — otherwise known as “no proof of insurance.”
Then, on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, Kinnick lost control of his 2015 Dodge Ram — the same truck he was driving Dec. 15 — and struck a light pole in Grand Junction at 9th Street South and Elizabeth Street West. The pole had to be replaced, and Kinnick was cited this time by a Greene County deputy for failure to maintain control and, again, failure to provide proof of financial liability.
Hearing of the incident on April 4, King was livid — but also relieved.
“Thank God he didn’t kill somebody,” she said through eyes wet with tears. “No other family needs to go through what my kids have had to endure.”
At the very least, Williams said last week, Kinnick “probably should’ve been cited for leaving the scene of the accident” the night of Dec. 15. But, ultimately, it’s not his investigation.
For his part, the state trooper in charge of the investigation said this week that these sorts of accidents take time to investigate.
“I feel for the family,” said Trooper Nick Henkle, who is based at the Iowa State Patrol’s District 4 headquarters in Denison. “I know they’re looking for answers, but this is pretty standard.”
Henkle said he had a meeting scheduled with Greene County Attorney Thomas Laehn to discuss the events of the Dec. 15 incident and possible charges, but when asked about a date, Henkle acknowledged he doesn’t yet have a set time to meet.
When asked if he had been awaiting a toxicology report, Henkle said he wasn’t at liberty to say.
Without commenting on any particular case, Laehn, the county attorney, said recently that the state in any case always has at least a year to bring charges. For an indictable offense, he said, the state has three years in which to bring charges.
Following the April 4 accident, Williams said deputies made sure to submit Kinnick for re-evaluation of his driving privileges. In order to retain his license, Kinnick will have to pass a written test and a driving test with a driving instructor, according to Williams.
But, Williams said, there’s no way of knowing if he complied until the next time he’s pulled over.
“Unfortunately, we can’t just revoke (someone’s license),” Williams said. “It doesn’t work like that.”
Admittedly, some of King’s anger would have been tempered had Kinnick simply stopped on the night of Dec. 15.
“If you thought you grazed him, why didn’t you stop?” she asked.
It’s true that Fincel was high on meth that night as he walked along the side of the street, according to King. The sidewalk along 16th Street North in Grand Junction is frequently covered with snow, water or mud.
Regardless, Williams told the Herald in January that Fincel wasn’t walking in Kinnick’s lane.
“I don’t care if he was dancing down the road. He was a pedestrian,” King said, adding that the American flag emblazoned on the back of his leather jacket should have made Fincel easy to see.
For King, trying to process Fincel’s death has been especially difficult in light that she also lost her mom less than two years ago. An only child originally from Omaha, King has no memories of her mother being able to walk — her mom, Dorothy Vreugdenhil, had been paralyzed by a drunk driver just days before King’s 3rd birthday.
Vreugdenhil spent the rest of her days in a wheelchair, but lived life to the fullest — something Fincel will never get to do.
“Travis has always been my rock. And my mom. Now I have to go through life without both,” King said. “I am faking it, to say the least.”
Around Grand Junction, “Travy” was a well-known user of meth.
“He was the town drug addict,” King said matter-of-factly.
However, as King explained, Fincel didn’t steal to feed his habit.
“He was still a productive member of society,” she said.
He was gainfully employed — at Rueter’s for 10 years, then for Neese Inc. at the time of his death.
Fincel was what someone might term a “functioning addict,” King said.
“He behaved more sober-like when he was high,” she explained. “A lot of people had no idea he’d gone back to using.”
“That doesn’t make him any less deserving of justice,” she added.
More than anything, King said, Fincel was a devoted dad to six kids — only two of which were actually biological.
King is particularly saddened that Travy didn’t get to see their son together, Gabe Fincel, a sophomore at Greene County High School, off to prom this spring.
Gabe, 16, also recently got his first tattoo: a skull wearing a jester hat, in honor of his dad’s nickname, Joker.
By King’s own admission, it’s hard to love an addict. They were together for 15 years, but settled on an arrangement to “co-parent” together.
When the great Smokey Robinson once sang, “I don’t like you, but I love you,” he could have been singing about what it’s like to live life with an addict.
And in the end, Fincel was loved.
“Everybody needs somebody,” King said. “Everybody needs a chance.”