LITTLE ROCK -- The man who killed a Sherwood bicyclist in a hit-and-run collision three years ago pleaded guilty Monday to felony counts of negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an injury accident, with his punishment to be decided at a later date.
The charges together carry up to 42 years in prison for offenders with at least one prior felony conviction. The man who pleaded guilty, 54-year-old Cecil Daren Ferrell of North Little Rock, has two 2007 drug-related convictions from Bradley County, court records show.
Ferrell pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, a Class B felony, and leaving the scene, a Class D felony, an arrangement negotiated by senior deputy prosecutor Leigh Patterson and defense attorney Richard Hughes.
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 4 by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson. Ferrell, arrested in March 2020, eight months after the fatal collision, has been jailed ever since.
The victim, John Daniel Mundell, a 59-year-old newlywed and father of six, was biking south on Arkansas 107 about 20 minutes before sundown in July 2019 when he was hit from behind north of Millers Point Court by a driver who fled the scene. Not even two months married, Mundell died four days later.
Sherwood police reported that Mundell was wearing his helmet and bright reflective clothing, and that his bike was equipped with a clear forward-facing light on the front and a rear-facing flashing red light under his seat. The lights were still on when police arrived.
Mundell, a small businessman with his own vinyl siding company, was a biking enthusiast who regularly raced. He belonged to the River Valley Cycling Club in Fort Smith and also ran marathons. In September 2020, the Arkansas Highway Commission marked with signs the section of Arkansas 107, a mile south of the intersection of Brockington Road, as the John D. Mundell Memorial Highway.
Investigators were able to find surveillance video of Mundell on his bike and were further able to trace his route through a telephone app.
Video allowed police to determine a suspect vehicle, a silver Hyundai Elantra with minor damage to the right front corner, with investigators publicizing the vehicle to try to find out who was driving it.
Almost five months had passed before Ferrell came to their attention, court filings show. The turning point came when North Little Rock police directed Sherwood detectives to a 2001 Elantra that resembled the car in the video, with the right-side damage but also damage to the windshield that looked like it could have been caused by a large object striking it, court filings show.
The car's owner, Donald Franklin, told investigators he had bought the car from his father, who in turn had bought it from a former employee whom he knew as Darren Ferrell, according to court records. The senior Franklin said Ferrell said he had gotten into some trouble with the vehicle and needed to get rid of it.
Ferrell went to police in January 2020, about two months before his arrest, telling investigators he'd bought the car sometime in the summer of 2019. He told investigators he never let anyone borrow the car but had left it in Crossett in July 2019 -- about two weeks before Mundell was killed -- with the keys in the ashtray.
Ferrell said the front damage came from hitting an orange traffic barrel, but he did not know what had happened to the windshield, beyond saying that the damage had existed a long time.
Investigators also got information from a woman who said she saw an apparently drunk man driving the Elantra in Mayflower with a man passed out in the front passenger seat, around the time of the collision. The car was not damaged then, the woman said.
Police tracked down that passenger, who said he was with Ferrell in the car when Ferrell hit someone on a bicycle on their way back from Mayflower. According to court files, the passenger said both he and Ferrell had been drinking heavily at the time.
The passenger told police he had been asleep during the drive when he was awakened by a loud pop. When he asked Ferrell what had happened, Ferrell said he had hit a traffic barrel, and the passenger said he had gone back to sleep.
Ferrell dropped him off at home that night, the passenger said, telling police he saw the Elantra windshield damage the next day and realized it couldn't have been caused by a traffic barrel. He said he confronted Ferrell about the windshield, according to court records. That's when Ferrell told him about hitting a bike rider, the witness told police.
After police arrested Ferrell, he denied any wrongdoing, stating he did not remember any collision and regularly suffers from blackouts.