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Sutton man ordered to pay fines for 2021 deck collapse during Fourth of July party

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More than a year after a deck collapsed at a Fourth of July gathering near Sutton, injuring at least 17 people, a Fillmore County judge ordered a 21-year-old man to pay a series of fines for his role in hosting the clamorous party that led to the collapse.

Cameron Kleinschmidt-Rouse's attorney, meanwhile, called into question the entire investigation into the Sutton man, who was 20 years old when he hosted at least 57 partygoers at his parents' house along County Road D — between the small communities of Sutton, Grafton and Henderson.

In the early morning hours of July 5, 2021, an above-ground deck at the family's home collapsed under the weight of partygoers, sending at least 17 people to hospitals in the area and in Lincoln, authorities said then.

And in the month following the collapse, Fillmore County Sheriff's Office investigators filed a 10-page affidavit for a search warrant detailing the aftermath of the collapse and laying out four criminal allegations, including two felonies.

But Adam Sipple, Kleinschmidt-Rouse's attorney, said that investigators had privately sought 21 felony charges in the case, including 16 against his client and another five against Kleinschmidt-Rouse's parents, who were home at the time.

"It put Cameron in a situation where the officials in charge of his fate weren’t restrained in any meaningful way by the law," Sipple told the Journal Star following Kleinschmidt-Rouse's Wednesday morning sentencing hearing.

“That’s just almost obscene to me," he said of the 21 charges that ultimately weren't filed.

Instead, Fillmore County Attorney Jill Cunningham charged Kleinschmidt-Rouse with four counts of selling alcohol to a minor and four counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor — all misdemeanors that weren't filed until June 2022, nearly a year after the deck collapsed.

Kleinschmidt-Rouse pleaded guilty to the four selling alcohol to a minor charges and, in exchange, the prosecutor dropped the latter four charges.

Sipple told the court Wednesday that the party itself was "born out of ambition." He said Kleinschmidt-Rouse, then in his third year of college, had decided to pursue a career in music and planned to use the party as a platform to convince his parents of his budding career in the industry.

"This is just a good young man who had a party," Sipple said, noting that he had no reason to believe the deck would collapse.

Kleinschmidt-Rouse initially told authorities that he was confident everyone at the party was of legal age to drink because he had directed someone to check IDs at the door, Deputy Darren Pfeifer said in the affidavit.

But investigators later found that 50 of the 57 partygoers they identified were under 21, Pfeifer said. The youngest attendee was 15, he said, and the average age of identified partygoers was 18½.

A 17-year-old girl told investigators that when she arrived with four underage friends, none of them were asked for IDs, but they were offered a $15 VIP pass that allowed them access to free food, drinks and the deck that later collapsed overlooking an outdoor pool, according to the affidavit.

At Wednesday's hearing, Cunningham said the man had intentionally not hired security for the party because "it would cut into profits."

The prosecutor said that building the case against the Sutton man, who has since moved to Atlanta, was difficult due to a lack of witness cooperation, which she attributed to widespread media coverage of the collapse.

Cunningham called Kleinschmidt-Rouse's actions that night "irresponsible and reckless" but only asked Judge Michael Mead to sentence the 21-year-old to community service time.

In the end, Mead settled on a monetary punishment, ordering Kleinschmidt-Rouse to pay court costs and a $750 fine for each charge he pleaded guilty to for a total of $3,094.79.

"I can't prevent someone else from paying it, but I would like it if you paid it yourself," the judge told the defendant, allowing him six months to pay the fine.

For Sipple, the fines amount to justice in a case that could have turned out quite differently for the 20-year-old who threw the party.

"If not for the good judgement of the local prosecutor and judge, you know, injustice may well have occurred," he said.

Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule speaks at the introductory ceremony on Monday at Hawks Championship Center.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or awegley@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @andrewwegley

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A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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