WHS grad pleads 'no contest' in fatal accident

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Several years in prison may be looming for Keith Benford Knudsen, a Portola Valley native and 2007 Woodside High School graduate who was behind the wheel of a BMW in a fatal high-speed accident that killed passenger Robert Lewis Wetzel, 19, in Portola Valley on the night of June 12, 2008.

Mr. Knudsen, 20, pleaded "no contest" to felony vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcohol and with gross negligence in a March 30 appearance before San Mateo County Superior Court Judge James Ellis, according to a report from Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

In a plea agreement, Mr. Knudsen agreed to a maximum of six years and 8 months in state prison, Mr. Wagstaffe said. Prisoners with no strikes against them are eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of their time, and Mr. Knudsen will receive credit for the 8 months he will have served in jail, Mr. Wagstaffe said in an interview.

Mr. Knudsen has been in county jail in Redwood City since the accident and remains there while awaiting sentencing, which is set for May 26 at 9 a.m. Prosecutors did not say in the report whether Mr. Knudsen will receive credit for time already served.

In the June 12 accident, Mr. Knudsen was driving Mr. Wetzel's black BMW northbound on Portola Road around 11:30 p.m. and hit several trees in the 800 block near the Village Square shopping center.

Mr. Knudsen's blood-alcohol level was 0.17 percent, twice the legal limit, and he'd been moving at speeds above 80 mph and lost control of the vehicle, prosecutors said. The car was found broken into several pieces.

Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Knudsen were friends and 2007 graduates of Woodside High School.

After the accident, Mr. Knudsen told authorities that he had acknowledged being under the influence of alcohol to Mr. Wetzel and that he did not want to drive, but Mr. Wetzel convinced him to drive him home to unincorporated Redwood City in Mr. Wetzel's car, Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said in an interview.

Mr. Wetzel was the sole passenger and was sitting in the front passenger seat, authorities said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The San Mateo County coroner attributed his death to trauma from the collision.

Mr. Knudsen had been out on bail for the robbery charge on the night of the accident. He had been pinned in the car and was taken to Stanford Hospital, where 20 staples were required to close an injury to his head.

In the days following the accident, a memorial in chalk, spray paint and flowers appeared on the roadway and on the trees at the site.

Mr. Knudsen's plea agreement included a second "no contest" plea to a charge of felony theft in a November 2007 incident. Mr. Knudsen and three friends robbed an elderly man of more than $300 in a Redwood City doughnut shop, the report said. They had asked the man for a dollar, which he was about to give them, but they then grabbed bills from the man's hand and ran out.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kevinr
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Apr 1, 2009 at 12:53 pm

"Mr. Knudsen had been out on bail for the robbery charge on the night of the accident." - huh? when was he involved in a robbery?

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Mother
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2009 at 10:34 pm

you have to read the last paragraph
hopefully this kid learns a lesson!

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