Four years ago a beautiful young woman named Renée Horton was tragically killed by a drunk driver. The crash happened just a block from my office. I remember seeing police still investigating the scene when I came to work the next morning. I’m not sure whether it was because I’ve been a Fort Worth personal injury lawyer for so long, the father of another young (and beautiful) woman, or worked and lived nearby that I was mad about it then. And I’m still angry about how this crime was handled now. Here’s why.
A young punk named Campbell, age 20, was driving a Honda Civic at 3:15 a.m. on a Sunday morning in August of 2009, after a hard- drinking Saturday night. His 16 year old brother was next to him. Campbell crashed into Renee’s vehicle at the light outside at 1600 South University Drive.
A Fort Worth police officer was in the process of trying to stop the car when he came upon the wreck. Police radar had clocked it flying at 93 mph in a 40 mph zone. Campbell had already rear-ended a vehicle stopped down the street at West Seventh.
Renée, who was 24 and had almost graduated from college, was pronounced dead at the scene. She had been majoring in teaching, a profession she had dreamt about for many years. Her driver was seriously injured. Not that it matters, but Campbell and his kid brother were also hurt.
Campbell had a blood-alcohol content of .012. That was 1.5 times the legal limit of 0.08.
He pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter.
But that sentence was somehow probated.
The terms of Campbell’s probation (which were worked out with the victim’s family) included that he wear a bracelet with Renée Horton’s name on it, reimburse her mother for her funeral expenses, spend Christmas, Thanksgiving, July Fourth, and the dates of Renée Horton’s birth and death in the Tarrant County Jail, and not possess or consume alcohol.
When Judge Ruben Gonzalez handed down the sentence, Campbell promised never to return to his courtroom. But the other day he was back. This time the judge sent Campbell to prison for 10 years for repeatedly violating the conditions of his probation.
Prosecutors Lloyd Whelchel and Anndi Risinger presented evidence that Campbell held jobs at bars, continued to drink and took an unauthorized trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras after telling his probation officer that he was going to Slidell, Louisiana to visit his sick grandmother. He also neglected to blow into an alcohol detection device 17 times.
It is impossible not to draw a connection between this case and the now infamous “affluenza” case where 16-year-old Ethan Couch was convicted of four counts of intoxication manslaughter but was also given a 10 year probated sentence only probation and rehab as punishment. As you may know from reading my previous posts, I represent a young man who was horribly paralyzed and is unable to even speak as a result of that horrific crash. I hope that if Couch violates his probation in even the slightest way, Judge Boyd will immediately revoke his probation and send him to jail for 10 years. I sat through three days of grueling testimony and the judge promised that she would revoke Couch’s probation if he violated it.
Texas has far more drunk driving accidents than any other state in the nation. About 45 percent of all people killed in traffic accidents in Texas are injured or killed in drunk driving accidents. This horrendous problem is especially rampant in our Dallas Fort Worth area. Last year 121 people were killed and 1,261 others were seriously injured by DWI or DUI drivers in Tarrant and Dallas Counties.
Drunk driving crashes are often the most serious auto accidents. Rarely is a drunk driving accident a slight rear-end collision caused by a driver’s mere failure to brake in time. Instead, drunk driving accidents usually are head-on and side-impact collisions at high rates of speed.
The unfortunate truth is that, despite the dangers of drunk driving and the seriousness of the consequences, many drivers choose to disregard the law–and the safety of others–and get behind the wheel after they have been drinking. Our criminal judges should not be so lenient with drunk drivers.