NC forklift contractor killed a Air Force doctor because he was distracted by his cell phone

With the Hyster H155xl 15k forklift, US Air Force (USAF) Technical Sergeant (TSGT) Michael Farmer (driver), USAF SENIOR AIRMAN (SRA) David Walls (center), and USAF STAFF Sergeant (SSGT) Robin Threlkel, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron, marshal cargo pallets prior to loading onto an aircraft as part of the RAF Mildenhall Phase I exercise (The U.S. National Archives)

Martha Quillin

The Charlotte Observer

A North Carolina man who worked as a military contractor on an overseas base pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing a U.S. Air Force doctor with a forklift in 2020.

Ari Taylor, 32, of Roxboro, was using a forklift to deliver pallets of water on Al Ahafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, on Nov. 27, 2020, the FBI said in a press release. At the time, Taylor was a civilian employee of a U.S. military contractor.

According to the FBI, Taylor was driving the forklift through an area between a medical clinic and some living quarters, which was frequently traversed by both vehicles and pedestrians.

Investigators said Taylor admitted he was distracted by his cell phone while he was driving the forklift and never saw Air Force Capt. Kelliann Leli walking in the area.

A crash expert found that Taylor had almost 9 seconds to prevent the accident. But because he was looking at his phone and didn’t see Leli, he took no action to avoid hitting her.

Leli, 30, was a native of New Brunswick, N.J., who was accepted into the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., after graduating high school. She graduated from the Academy in 2012, was commissioned and sent to Rutgers Medical School, where she trained as a family doctor.

According to a biography by, she was assigned to Travis Air Force Base in California in 2016 and practiced family medicine there, delivering dozens of babies and attending to illness and injuries.

The military said Leli was assigned to the 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron at Travis, and deployed with the unit to the UAE with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. It was her first deployment.

The FBI said Taylor pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter in Leli’s death. He is set to be sentenced by a federal district court judge on April 25, 2023.

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