Was a fatal hit-and-run swept under the carpet in Cass County? Family deserves answers

Facebook/Gavin Kush

Cass County Prosecutor Ben Butler has some explaining to do — to the family of a teenager killed in a hit-and-run traffic accident, and to the people of his community, too.

On July 22, 2018, a 15-year-old named Gavin Kush was walking on a road with a friend in rural Cass County, at dusk, when he was struck by a car. The driver was a young man named Tyler Bonabhan, who had borrowed the car from a girlfriend who lived in Leawood.

Kush was killed. Bonabhan did not stop after the accident, which damaged the car so badly it was later declared a total loss.

These facts are not in dispute. Erica Kush, Gavin’s mother, later filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Bonabhan, which was eventually settled in 2019 for $200,000.

More than a year later, Bonabhan was charged criminally with leaving the scene of an accident. Under Missouri law, leaving the scene of an accident when a death is involved is a Class D felony, with a possible sentence of up to seven years in prison.

But the case never came to trial. Instead, in August 2021 — almost exactly a year ago — Butler’s office dismissed the charges against Bonabhan. In an email to us, the prosecutor said “after (Bonabhan’s) arrest, the investigation continued. The charge was dismissed when the evidence no longer supported probable cause.”

Butler made no further comment.

A year later, Gavin Kush’s family still wants a full explanation of the decision. Despite a few meetings, they haven’t heard it.

Erica Kush says she was never consulted about the decision, and has no idea why Butler decided not to prosecute the driver who killed her son.

“It’s like it never happened,” she said. “I just got a phone call that said the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. They didn’t tell me anything.

“There aren’t any words to explain how upset I was,” she continued.

Several phone calls to Bonabhan’s former Leawood attorney were not returned. We sent a letter to a local address connected with Bonabhan, but got no response.

In other court papers, Bonabhan reportedly said he was unaware he had struck a person — believing, instead, he had struck a deer. The Missouri statute on leaving the scene of an accident requires a defendant to have “knowledge” of the collision to be convicted.

Yet it isn’t clear why or how Butler made the unilateral decision to accept this excuse, or any other explanation for the accident. That’s what juries are for. We simply don’t know why the prosecutor decided to drop the case before a jury could consider it, other than “probable cause,” whatever that means in this context.

We do know that because of Butler’s decision, the defendant avoids any potential criminal responsibility for his actions, and Kush’s family gets no relief.

“No explanation, no closure,” Erica Kush said through tears. “No understanding of how they came to the decision they did.”

Kush, and her family and friends, want the case reopened. It was dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning the charges could be re-filed. A lawyer connected with the family has pursued documents related to the crash, but has so far not persuaded authorities to file a new case.

Prosecutors have wide latitude in determining when to file charges, and when not to. But Cass County Prosecutor Butler should not be allowed to wash his hands of a wreck that killed a teenager without a full public explanation of his decision, and a candid discussion with the victim’s family.

The Kush family wants answers. Gavin Kush deserves justice. Cass Countians should demand both.