Civilian Forklift Driver Was Distracted by Phone When He Struck and Killed Air Force Doctor

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Capt. Kelliann Leli, an Air Force doctor, pictured with her husband, was struck and killed by a forklift on Nov. 27, 2020, on Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. A Roxboro, North Carolina, man pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges on Nov. 8 in her death. US Air Force photo.

US Air Force photo.

A forklift driver moving pallets of water had nine seconds to avoid striking and killing an Air Force doctor in 2020.

Instead, the civilian contractor, Ari Taylor, was distracted by his cell phone as he drove the heavy machine and never saw Capt. Kelliann Leli.

The Roxboro, North Carolina, man struck Leli with the forklift, killing her, on Nov. 27, 2020, on Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.

Taylor, 32, pleaded guilty in a federal court Tuesday, Nov. 8, to involuntary manslaughter in Leli’s death.

forklift driver pleads guilty in death of Air Force doctor

Capt. Kelliann Leli, left, 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron, and Capt. Jimmy Leli, 6th Air Refueling Squadron, take a photo at a deployed location in Southwest Asia. This was the couple’s last photo taken together. US Air Force photo.

US Air Force photo.

According to the Department of Justice, Taylor was working as a civilian contractor while driving a forklift carrying pallets of water at the UAE base. He was moving the water in a path shared by vehicles and pedestrians, between a medical clinic and living quarters.

Taylor acknowledged in his plea agreement that pedestrians were frequently present in this area.

Cell phone use while operating a forklift is a violation of basic safety rules, Air Force instructions, and OSHA workplace regulations.

Leli, 30, was a native of Sayreville, New Jersey, and graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 2012. Leli was assigned to the 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, and was on her first deployment with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Her husband, Air Force Capt. Jimmy Leli, is a KC-10 pilot in the 6th Aerial Refueling Squadron at Travis. After her death, he released a photo of the couple taken about six months before her death. It was the couple’s last photo together.

According to the Department of Justice, a crash reconstruction expert concluded that Taylor had almost nine seconds to prevent the crash, but Taylor admitted that he did not see Leli. He will be sentenced April 25, 2023.

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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