The family of an 8-year-old League City girl who died after a car crash filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Thursday in Galveston County courts against a woman charged in the fatal collision and against the car manufacturer.

The lawsuit is the third legal battle facing Erika Diebel, 41, who was charged Thursday with intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle in the fatal crash.

The crash and subsequent charges also have become part of a child custody battle between Diebel and her former husband, according to court records.

Kelsey Nalepa died of injuries sustained in a crash April 6 in the 2600 block of West Main Street in League City.

Traffic was stopped in that block when Diebel drove her Jeep Grand Cherokee into a 2009 Ford Expedition, police said. The crash seriously injured Nalepa, police said.

She was flown to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, where she was pronounced dead at 1:32 a.m. April 8.

No one else was injured in the crash.

Diebel consented to a blood-alcohol test and was taken to a University of Texas Medical Branch clinic in League City, where she gave the sample, according to an arrest affidavit released Thursday.

The alcohol content report from the Texas Department of Public Safety crime laboratory showed Diebel had a blood alcohol content of 0.249 grams per 100 milliliters of blood, according to the arrest affidavit. The legal limit is 0.08.

Diebel was arrested Thursday on the second-degree felony charge and was held on $100,000 bond, according to court records.

Diebel has a history of alcohol abuse, according to court records related to a child-custody case her former husband, William Byron Kerneckel, 41, reopened after the April 6 crash.

“Erika Nicole Diebel was on her way to pick up our son from karate at the time of the accident, and I have good reason to believe that Erika Nicole Diebel was drinking alcohol at or prior to the time of the accident,” Kerneckel alleged in the affidavit filed April 10.

Diebel had been drinking from noon to 5 p.m. April 6 to celebrate a friend’s birthday, Kerneckel alleged in the affidavit.

In January 2016 and February 2016, Kerneckel was called to the scenes of accidents to retrieve Diebel after she twice totaled vehicles while drinking-and-driving, according to the affidavit.

Diebel was not criminally charged in those alleged crashes, court records show.

Before being reopened on April 10, the divorce had been finalized in October 2011, court records show.

The lawsuit filed Thursday by Alton Todd, representing the Nalepa family, seeks damages of more than $1 million from Diebel and Ford Motor Company, court records show.

Diebel erred in driving while under the influence of alcohol and by failing to maintain proper speed and control of the vehicle, the lawsuit asserts.

Ford was negligent because the 2009 Expedition the family was driving was defective, the lawsuit asserts.

“As manufactured, the 2009 Ford Expedition was unreasonably dangerous in that the driver’s side seat failed and Kelsey Nalepa’s head came in contact with the back of the seat,” the lawsuit asserts.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230;



(4) comments

Stephanie Martin

How sad, all the money in the world won't bring her back.

Lynda Amason

agree that not all the money in the world won't bring her back but Ford Motor Company should have done something about all the vehicles that are defective. Not 1 auto company corrects anything even after they are aware of the issues. I knew when that back seat did what it did that it is not a good safe vehicle. It's all about money and the million dollars that's being sought, well, that's a drop in the bucket and the lawyer will get about 90% of that.

Doyle Beard

You are correct on the auto but lets not forget all the fault does not lie with Ford. Examine the record of the driver who was at fault.

Mike Linton

it's quite possible that if the seat did go back and cause head injuries, Kelsey might be alive. She's at fault too. That's obvious. But Ford is liable too. It's a problem other car manufacturers have not fixed. The front seat should NOT go back and hit the person in the back seat. Watch rear-end crash tests to see what i'm talking about.

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