April 29, 2011

Fort Worth driver in deadly DWI crash must spend his victim's birthdays in jail

The 22-year-old must also wear a bracelet bearing the victim's name for the next 10 years.

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FORT WORTH -- Early one August morning nearly two years ago, Christopher Elton Campbell got drunk and crashed his car into another, killing a 24-year-old woman.

Campbell did not know Renee Danielle Horton, but her life is not something he will soon forget.

On Friday, Campbell, 22, was sentenced to 10 years' probation for intoxication manslaughter.

As a condition of his probation, he must wear a bracelet with Horton's name on it; reimburse her mother $22,271.46 in funeral expenses; and spend Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and the dates of Horton's birth and death in the Tarrant County Jail.

"Every time you think about whining or complaining because you have to spend a holiday in jail, remember I never get to spend any days with my daughter, on holidays or her birthday," Debbie Horton told Campbell after the plea bargain agreement was reached. "Never ever. And every year on the date that Renee died, I will remember the horror of that day. When you wear Renee's bracelet, remember Renee was a real, live human being with a life that you stole from her."

Moments earlier, Campbell, of Fort Worth, had pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter, promised state District Judge Ruben Gonzalez that he'd never end up in his courtroom again, and apologized to Horton's family.

"I've been very sorry for the past two years," Campbell said. "Every day I've been thinking about what I was going to tell y'all and how it has affected y'all and also how it has affected my family. ... I pray the Lord has forgiveness on me and that y'all will forgive me for the pain I've caused and for the life that has been taken away."

Prosecutor Lloyd Whelchel said he came up with the conditions of probation after working with Horton's family. If Campbell violates any condition -- he also must spend the next 30 days in jail, refrain from drinking alcohol, install a Breathalyzer on his vehicle and wear an alcohol-detecting ankle monitor -- he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

"After talking to the victim's family, this is what they wanted to do," Whelchel said. "This was done with their approval."

Defense attorney Jerry Loftin said requiring his client to wear the bracelet for the next 10 years is a good thing.

"It's a constant reminder," Loftin said.

Officials have said Campbell was driving a Honda Civic at 3:15 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2009, when an officer clocked him going 53 mph in a 40-mph zone in the 1600 block of South University Drive. The officer was trying to catch up to the car, which radar showed had reached 93 mph, when he came upon the wreck. Campbell had rear-ended a vehicle stopped at a red light at West Seventh Street.

Horton died and the driver of the car she was in was injured. Campbell and his 16-year-old brother, a passenger in his car, were also injured. Campbell had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, over the legal limit of 0.08.

On Friday, after the judge accepted the plea bargain, both families wept as Horton's parents read letters and shared memories of their daughter, who grew up in North Richland Hills but had recently moved to Wichita Falls with her mother.

"I miss Renee's blue eyes, her amazing smile, her laughter, her jumping into my bed at night and watching a movie with me," Debbie Horton said. "I miss our talks, our hair dates, the makeup, having her yell 'Mom' from the other room. ... She was my beautiful daughter, and it has broken my heart to lose her. A beautiful life was cut short because of you."

Melody McDonald, 817-390-7386

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