Murder conviction in Highway 49 teen deaths

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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A Placer County jury found 64-year-old Phillip Ingram guilty today of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of two 15-year-old boys who were struck by his vehicle as they walked on the side of Highway 49.

Jared Gaches and Trevor Keller, both 15 and from Auburn, were killed when Ingram's vehicle veered off Highway 49 in North Auburn.

Ingram, an Auburn resident, was accused of being impaired by the sleep aid Ambien the afternoon of the fatal crash on April 3, 2016.

According to the Placer County District Attorney's Office, the jury disregarded Ingram's claim that he accidentally took Ambien thinking it was his blood-pressure medication.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Lopez argued that Ingram's claims at trial were nothing more than an attempt to create a defense to avoid responsibility for the murder of the two teenage boys.

The prosecution's evidence showed that Ingram, while driving on Dry Creek Road in North Auburn on the day of the crash, struck a vehicle and continued driving onto Highway 49, eventually striking and killing the two boys.

Ingram was convicted in 2000 of driving under the influence. That, along with other evidence, demonstrated his knowledge of and disregard for the dangers of driving while impaired, justifying the second-degree murder conviction, the District Attorney's Office said.

Ingram is to be sentenced Aug. 24. He is being held without bail.

Jared and Trevor had been close friends since their days at E.V. Cain Middle School and the Placer Jr. Hillmen football program. Trevor grew up in the Auburn area and Jared arrived with his family to the community in 2012.

After their deaths, both boys were lauded for their spirit.

“Jared had a big spirit,” his mother, Dawn Vierra said shortly after his death. “When he walked into a room you knew it. He had a huge heart.”

Kristina Keller, Trevor’s mother, said her son was a tremendous inspiration to younger kids, especially on the football field.

“He took them under his wing and always got them to play,” Kristina Keller said.