Sheriff: Alcohol, speed were factors in multi-vehicle wreck in southern Tarrant County that killed 4

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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This article has been modified from how it originally was published in the Star-Telegram and on Star-Telegram.com to correct the age of Brian Jennings.

FORT WORTH -- Hours of teenagers drinking, including two cases of stolen beer, ended on a dark road in southern Tarrant County last month in a multi-vehicle wreck of such force that four people standing by the side of the road were thrown about 60 yards, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson reported Tuesday.

Alcohol and speed were the main factors in the June 15 collisions on Burleson-Retta Road, which killed the four people and injured 12 others, Anderson said at an afternoon news conference.

The 16-year-old driver of a red Ford F350 pickup that started the chain reaction of crashes had a blood-alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit, Anderson said. His truck was traveling 68 mph to 70 mph, he said.

“I truly believe this is probably the most difficult accident scene we’ve ever had to work, for a lot of reasons,” Anderson said. “It was a tremendously trying job for the people who showed up to have four people killed instantly at the scene.

“Almost immediately upon it happening, some family members of the victims came upon the scene. You can imagine how traumatic it was for” them.

Investigators learned that the teenager had been drinking for a few hours before the wreck, and that about an hour before it happened, his group was seen on security video stealing two cases of beer from the Walmart in Burleson, Anderson said.

Before the teens stole the beer, they tried to buy alcohol at a convenience store but were denied, he said.

The sheriff said the driver, a resident of Keller, is the focus of the investigation and he does not expect anyone else to be charged.

“He was extremely intoxicated, obviously,” Anderson said of the driver. “It is a something that was completely preventable. Something that, because a group of people made some very, very bad decisions, four totally innocent people lost their lives. There is just no other way to say it.”

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is investigating whether any adults served alcohol to the driver and his friends, but on Tuesday, Anderson said, his investigators had no indication any adults were involved.

The collisions occurred about 11:45 p.m. in the 1500 block of Burleson-Retta Road just east of Spinks Airport in southern Tarrant County.

The eight teens had been drinking in a house in the 1700 block of Burleson-Retta Road that is is owned by the family of the 16-year-old driver, Anderson said. He said he did not believe anyone was living there at the time.

They piled into the pickup and headed west on the dark road. The pickup quickly reached a speed close to 70 mph, Anderson said.

In the 1500 block, Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, 41, had stopped to help Breanna Mitchell, 24, of Lillian whose sport utility vehicle had broken down. Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, 21, had come of their house nearby to assist. Mitchell’s SUV was off the roadway, and the four were standing off the roadway.

The speeding red pickup left the road and clipped Mitchell’s SUV and plowed into the four people. They were thrown 50 to 60 yards, the width of an entire residential lot in that neighborhood, the investigation found.

Next, the red pickup hit Jennings’ parked Silverado pickup with two boys inside waiting for him. The red pickup went airborne, flipped and crashed into a tree. None of the teens in the red truck wore seat belts, and two were in the bed of the vehicle, Anderson said.

Jennings’ pickup was pushed into a Volkswagen Beetle driven by Ashlyn Evans, 18, of Burleson, who had a 14-year-old passenger. They were injured, as were the boys waiting inside Jennings’ pickup.

Callers to 911 reported mangled vehicles and kids “lying in ditches.”

Considering the factors of alcohol and speed, investigators were not surprised by the carnage, only that more people didn’t die, Anderson said.

One person was still hospitalized Tuesday “with very serious injuries,” Anderson said.

The sheriff said he expects the Tarrant County district attorney’s office to charge the pickup driver in juvenile court, but the sheriff did not speculate on the charges.

“I’m confident the case is strong,” he said.

Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon also declined to discuss possible charges.

“Although initial paperwork has been received, there are still significant details that need to be developed,” Shannon said in a statement Tuesday. “We will not sacrifice accuracy and fairness for speed.”

Shannon said he has his “A-Team” on the case, including Riley Shaw, chief of juvenile prosecution, and prosecutor Richard Alpert whom he described as “a statewide recognized expert on vehicular deaths.”

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST

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