Damian Slayton loved to make people smile. The sixth grader at Nowlin Middle School in Independence was on the newspaper staff and was named to the fall 2009 honor roll.

However, Monday, students and staff at Nowlin, as well as in the community, are mourning the 12-year-old after a fatal car crash.

Damian Slayton loved to make people smile. The sixth grader at Nowlin Middle School in Independence was on the newspaper staff and was named to the fall 2009 honor roll.
However, Monday, students and staff at Nowlin, as well as in the community, are mourning the 12-year-old after a fatal car crash.

“He always had a funny story to share, and he would look up over his glasses, a wry smile on his face to see the reaction of others,” said Jeanne Carton, principal at Nowlin Middle School. “He was passionate about reading and always had several books in his possession.”

Clayton R. Dunlap, 30, of Kansas City, was charged Monday with second-degree murder in the crash that killed Damian. According to the probable cause statement released Monday by the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, Dunlap had 16 prior convictions for driving while revoked, driving while suspended or driving without a license. In addition, he has six convictions for “operating a motor vehicle in a careless or imprudent manner.”
The accident happened about 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Gregory Boulevard at U.S. 71.

According to court records, when Kansas City police officers arrived, Dunlap “appeared agitated by yelling incoherent statements.” Several witnesses said he was driving at an “extremely high rate of speed” and traveling west in the eastbound lanes of traffic prior to the collision. Witnesses said Dunlap attempted to “swerve back into the westbound lane,” striking a center concrete median, which caused the vehicle to overturn. The vehicle continued to slide down the roadway, striking the vehicle where Damian was sitting in the backseat with his seat belt on. The collision caused a chain reaction that involved three other vehicles, all stopped at a red light.

When officers began to question Dunlap about the accident, a chemical odor was detected that was consistent with PCP. Blood was taken to verify the police officer’s suspicion.

The impact crushed the rear end of the vehicle Damian was riding in. Damian was pronounced dead at the scene.

In total, seven people were injured, including Damian’s mother, Bri Kneisley, a teacher at Van Horn High School, and her fiancé. Kneisley was taken to an area hospital and remains in a coma in critical condition. The name of her fiancé has not yet been released.
Counselors were at Nowlin Middle School Monday to help students and staff deal with the loss.

“Every day before Damian left school, he would step into his teachers’ classrooms and say good-bye with his sincere, ‘Have a good day,’ ” Carton said. “Damian was always up-beat and inquisitive. He had a zest for learning that is rare in a 12-year-old. The teachers, staff, and students at Nowlin Middle School will miss him and his positive spirit.”