Ex-officer sentenced to 4 years in prison for fellow officer's boating death

Kenneth Reda tells crying wife: 'Don’t worry, baby. Be strong.'

Tears of relief and tears of heartbreak swept through a Cherokee County courtroom as a former decorated police officer was handcuffed and led off to prison for four years in connection with the drowning death of his best friend.

Former Cobb County police Sgt. Kenneth Reda was sentenced to four years in prison to be followed by11 years on probation for lying to law enforcement officers, violating his oath of office and second degree homicide by a water vessel.

As his hands were cuffed behind him, the 38-year-old father of three mouthed to his crying wife, “Don’t worry, baby. Be strong.”

Reda could have been sentenced to up to 24 years in prison, but Judge Frank Mills said he could not punish Reda as if he were convicted of a homicide because he was drunk when his boat clipped a pylon on Lake Allatoona and tossed Sgt. Brent Stephens into the cold waters, where he drowned last April 22.

“Saying you’re sorry doesn’t help. Whatever you say at this late date is too little, too late,” Mills said.

Reda had just told the judge of his remorse, with long pauses as he tried to maintain his composure.

“Brent was my best friend,” Reda said. “I’m sorry to the family. I’m sorry to my friends. I’m sorry to my family.”

Reda pleaded guilty two weeks ago to second degree homicide by vessel, tampering with evidence, violating the oath of a police officer and three counts of making false statements.

The judge also ordered Reda to visit the grave of someone killed in an accident involving alcohol on the anniversary of Stephens’ death. Mills said it could be anyone because the Stephens family may not want him at Brent Stephens’ grave. Reda was sentenced as a first-time offender, which means his felony conviction will be erased if he successfully completes his prison sentence and probation.

Reda, Stephens and Reda’s lover, Shellen Powell, were motoring back to Red Top Mountain State Park after having dinner at a lakeside restaurant. On the way, in the dark, their boat hit a pylon and Stephens was knocked into the water. Powell, who also is known as Shelley, testified earlier Thursday that they circled the area shouting for Stephens for 20 to 30 minutes.

Reda insisted on taking Powell to shore because he didn’t want anyone to know she was on the boat.

Reda admitted he was concerned with saving his marriage.

“If it wasn’t for trying to hide my relationship with her, this wouldn’t be the way it is now. I’m sorry,” Reda said.

The more than eight hours of testimony before the sentencing was emotional. At one point, the judge began to break down after Stephens’ widow, Lori, finished telling of the impact her husband’s death has had on her and their two children, a 4-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.

The Stephens family said they felt betrayed by Reda, who had been a part of their lives for years.

“We were very good friends,” Lori Stephens said.

“The lies that took place that night and the day after were sickening,” she said.

Reda called 911 90 minutes after his friend went in the water. That was after he took Powell to shore, giving her a trash bag of empty beer bottles and a cooler that held bottles of Budweiser and Michelob Ultra. He told Powell not to tell anyone she was there.

He then returned to the place where his friend went into the water and waited.

Initially he told rescuers that only he and Stephens were in the boat. He did not tell them that he had found Stephens' flip-flop on the water. He also denied they had consumed too much to drink; Stephens blood-alcohol level was .13, which is beyond the .08 mark that is considered intoxicated.

Reda also said Stephens jumped into the cold water.

In court Thursday, Reda admitted that he had lied to keep secret his year-long love affair with Powell.

Earlier Thursday, Powell offered the first public confirmation that she and Reda were romantically involved and that keeping that relationship secret was important even in the hours after Stephens fell out of the boat as they were returning from dinner at Victoria Landing.

Throughout the testimony, Reda kept his gaze on his hands and never looked at the witnesses except when his wife spoke about the friendship her husband had with Stephens.

“There were occasions when I was jealous of Ken’s relationship with Brent,” Missy Reda said.

She decided to stay with her husband even though she learned of the affair only through media accounts of the accident. She said she understood why he lied to investigators and rescuers called to Lake Allatoona late April 22.

“He was having an affair and doing his best not to get caught,” she said.

The Stephens family said they were satisfied with the punishment even though they begged the judge to give Reda the maximum.

Stephens’ mother, Sheila, said after the sentence was announced she felt only “deep, deep sadness and heartbreak. The was a no-win situation for either family.”