NEOSHO, Mo. — A Newton County judge sentenced a Neosho man to three years in prison Tuesday for leaving the scene of a 2015 traffic accident that claimed the life of 19-year-old Matthew Stevens.

Circuit Judge Tim Perigo assessed Oren R. Rinehart, 62, the prison term at a sentencing hearing in Newton County Circuit Court.

The jury that found Rinehart guilty of the charge in a two-day trial in November had recommended that he receive a three-year sentence for the conviction. The felony count carries up to four years under state law.

Neosho police found Stevens' body lying in the roadway about 1 a.m. Sept. 12, 2015, near the intersection of Highway 59 and Malcolm Mosby Drive. He appeared to have been struck by a vehicle that fled the scene. An autopsy determined that his injuries were a result of having been struck from behind.

Investigators initially sought information about a black Chevrolet Cruze and a light-colored sport utility vehicle that were seen leaving a bar at a high speed.

Five days later, a Neosho attorney informed the prosecutor's office that he had a client who believed he may have been responsible for the hit-and-run accident; a meeting of the client was arranged with an assistant prosecutor and police. Rinehart was arrested at that meeting, and his vehicle, which had front-end damage, was seized.

The defendant told investigators that he left the scene because he initially thought he had struck a deer. 

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.