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Two charged after truck they were towing came loose, struck motorcycle and killed couple



TOPEKA, Kan. – Two men have been charged with two counts each of involuntary manslaughter after a pickup truck being towed by another pickup truck last month came loose, struck a motorcycle and killed its riders, Topekans Anthony and Tamara Vardys.

Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced in a news release Friday that his office had filed charges against Randy Dean Clelland and Rigo Oliver Phinney linked to the crash, which Topeka police said occurred just after 10 p.m. March 20 at the intersection of N.E. US-24 highway and Meriden Road.

Clelland and Phinney were using a pickup truck and a chain to tow another pickup, which was disabled, when the chain came loose as the pickup in front tried to turn north from US-24 onto Meriden Road, Kagay said.

A group of motorcycle riders, who were westbound, took evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding with the trucks, Kagay said, but the truck that was being towed struck a motorcycle containing Anthony Vardys as the rider and Tamara Vardys as passenger.

The criminal charges filed against Clelland and Phinney were linked to their conduct leading up to the fatalities, Kagay said.

Phinney, 33, was booked at 4:05 p.m. Friday and Clelland, 60, at 4:15 p.m. Friday into the Shawnee County Jail, according to jail records.

Kagay said both were being held on bonds of $150,000 on Shawnee County warrants charging them with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of endangerment and one count each of reckless driving, driving on a suspended license, failure to yield, improper towing, improper towing without safety flags, driving without liability insurance and driving with illegal registration.

Phinney was also being held without bond in connection with felony drug possession, according to jail records.