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Driver hauling excavator that hit bridge — causing concrete to fall on Loveland teacher — takes plea deal

The plea deal came more than a year after the fatal crash.
Megan Mirella Arneson.jpg
Posted at 4:57 PM, Nov 10, 2023
and last updated 2024-01-05 18:00:38-05

UPDATE | Jan. 5 — Darnell Scott Yingling was sentenced on Jan. 5, 2024 to four years in community corrections and 300 hours of public service afterward.


WELD COUNTY, Colo. — A truck driver took a plea deal earlier this month in connection with a 2022 crash near Mead, in which an excavator he was towing hit a bridge, causing pieces of concrete to crash through the windshield of a Loveland teacher's car. She died at the scene.

Darnell Scott Yingling, 54, of Fort Collins took a plea deal on Nov. 3 and pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide - reckless driving. The other charges, including criminally negligent homicide, child abuse, and reckless driving, were dropped as part of the deal, according to court documents.

He has a sentencing hearing set for Jan. 5, 2024 at 8:30 a.m.

The crash happened on Aug. 8, 2022. Around 6 p.m., Megan Mirella Arneson, 32, of Loveland was driving in the left lane on northbound I-25 in a white 2011 Honda CR-V. Her 10-year-old son was in the car with her. Arneson worked for a Loveland preschool, where she had recently been promoted to assistant director. She took the day off of work to surprise her son with a trip to Water World and they were on their way home, according to a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed after the crash.

Along the same stretch of a highway, Yingling was driving a 2010 Peterbilt 389 semi, which was pulling a flatbed trailer with a excavator on it, in the right lane, according to a crash report.

Both vehicles neared the exit for Mead, which has an overpass bridge for Weld County Road 34. The bridge has a minimum clearance of 16 feet and maximum clearance of 17 feet feet, 1 inch in the northeast direction, according to the lawsuit.

The excavator on the semi's trailer exceeded that height, and its boom and arm hit the bridge, creating an immediate cloud of dust and debris to fall onto the lanes, the lawsuit reads.

Arneson likely saw this happen, as the crash report reads that she swerved to the left, but a large piece of concrete crashed through the windshield and hit her. The car, with a severely damaged front, kept going and moved toward the center median before striking a center cable rail before coming to a stop. The excavator fell off the trailer and skidded on the roadway, the report reads. Yingling pulled to the right shoulder and stopped.

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A couple in a nearby vehicle saw the crash happen and pulled over to help Arneson and her son, who had minor injuries and was transported to a hospital.

When emergency responders arrived at the scene, Arneson was pronounced deceased. The road was closed for several hours, with all lanes reopening around 4 a.m. the following morning.

Loved ones of Arneson created a GoFundMe to support her family. The GoFundMe, which has raised more than $38,000, is still accepting donations.

'She made all of my days better': Friends remember Loveland preschool teacher killed in I-25 crash

In the days after the crash, CDOT assessed the structural integrity of the bridge. Emergency repairs began Sept. 25, 2022.

On Sept. 7, 2022, Arneson's parents Brian Keith Christianson and Mirella Isabel Williams worked with Michael P. Kane with the Dan Caplis Law Firm to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Yingling and his employer, Import Auto, Inc., which was doing business as Import Towing and Recovery at the time. The company is based out of Fort Collins.

The lawsuit reads that both Yingling and his employer were responsible for securing the excavator to the trailer and ensuring it was lowered to a proper height for transport. It also listed out multiple driving convictions against Yingling, including a defective vehicle in 2016, having expired license plates in 2011, driving under the influence in 1995, and careless driving causing injury in 1995, among others.

The lawsuit claimed that Yingling was negligent and reckless, had violated traffic laws such as careless driving, created suffering for Arneson's 10-year-old son, and had caused her death. Her parents requested a trial by jury to hear all claims.

"Our daughter was a very bright light in this world and a fantastic mother to her wonderful 10-year-old son," Christianson and Williams said in a joint statement through the law firm. "We believe that her violent and traumatic death was completely preventable and we want to do everything in our power to make sure that this never happens to anyone else."

Yingling will be sentenced in early January.

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