December 4, 2013

Crash that killed 4 left wide trail of ruin, expert testifies

The scene on Burleson-Retta Road looked like the aftermath of an airplane crash, a witness testifies Wednesday to a juvenile court judge who will sentence a 16-year-old drunken driver.

This report includes graphic descriptions.

A multivehicle crash in June that killed four people in southern Tarrant County left a path of destruction that one expert said resembled the scene of an airplane smashing into the ground.

“There were car parts, truck parts, body parts, biological evidence” strewn for more than 60 yards along Burleson-Retta Road, Timothy Lovett, an accident reconstruction specialist, testified Wednesday.

The 16-year-old pickup driver who started the deadly chain of collisions has admitted guilt in the June 15 crash, which also injured 12 people. State District Judge Jean Boyd is hearing testimony in her juvenile court before sentencing him.

The Star-Telegram usually does not identify juvenile defendants.

The Keller teen was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Five lawsuits have been filed against the teen and his family.

The crash happened about 11:45 p.m. in the 1500 block of Burleson-Retta Road. The teen, who had seven passengers in his Ford F-350 pickup, had been drinking and was speeding, authorities said. His blood-alcohol level was 0.24, three times the legal limit. A medical examiner’s report read into evidence Wednesday said traces of the drug Valium were found in the teen’s system.

Killed were Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, whose car had broken down; Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, a passer-by who had also stopped to help.

Lovett testified that the data recorder that deployed the pickup’s air bags showed the truck was going 68 mph on impact, with the accelerator 96 percent depressed.

The truck swerved to miss an oncoming vehicle, then hit a driveway, barreled into the four people who were killed, rotated, hit Jennings’ parked pickup with two boys inside, then rolled over and hit a tree, coming to rest upside down, Lovett said.

“The front of the truck was flattened at an angle,” Lovett testified. “The whole undercarriage and front end were ripped from the vehicle.”

Defense seeks therapy

Attorneys for the teen argued that justice would best be served by separating him from his parents and giving him the intensive therapy he’ll need to become a productive adult.

According to attorney Reagan Wynn, the boy’s parents took a hands-off approach to raising him, and his behavior spiraled into drug and alcohol abuse.

His parents have agreed to pay for therapy, which will require them to be separated from him for at least two to three years, Wynn said.

“His parents created a toxic environment, which allowed him to engage in this destructive behavior,” Wynn told Boyd.

Wynn said that the teen has been in treatment for months since the crash and that mental health professionals agree that he can be rehabilitated with continued therapy.

The crash and the four deaths are the boy’s fault, Wynn told the court.

“There is not going to be a winner in this case,” Wynn said.

Prosecutors did not recommend a punishment in open court. The statutory maximum is 20 years’ detention on each intoxication manslaughter count.

The juvenile courtroom was standing-room-only Wednesday. The teen’s relatives sat behind him, and family members of the victims filled the remaining three rows. Several left as photos of the crash scene were shown to Boyd.

‘I knew it wasn’t good’

Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed, testified that he, too, had gone outside that night to help Mitchell, whose car had a flat tire before she ran over his neighbor’s mailbox, destroying it, and stopped in a ditch, Boyles said.

Boyles said he left his wife, his daughter and Mitchell outside because “I had gotten tired of listening to the three women talk.”

While he was inside, the phone rang but stopped, Boyles testified. He knew his daughter was calling and waited for the phone to ring again when the house shook.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was close and I knew it wasn’t good,” Boyles said.

Boyles went outside, called 911 and headed toward his neighbor’s yard, where he had left the three women and Jennings standing next to the disabled vehicle. He called out for his wife and his daughter.

Boyles said that he saw someone walking away from the crash and that he asked about his loved ones.

“‘You don’t want to go there. There’s nothing but trouble up there,’” Boyles said the man replied.

Boyles said he walked past two men lying partly in the ditch and partly on the roadside. He assumed one was dead, but he could hear the other moaning. Boyles said he kept walking and calling out for his wife and his daughter.

He turned around and started walking back the way he came when he saw his wife.

“I recognized Hollie because of the bright-colored top she had been wearing and there was no doubt that she was dead,” Boyles said. His wife had been cut in half, he said.

Emergency crews soon arrived to provide care to the living, placing blue tarps over the dead and the body parts scattered throughout the site, Boyles said.

When he left for the airport the next morning to pick up relatives, blue tarps were still scattered across the lawn, Boyles said.

Six months after the crash, little things still trigger painful memories, Boyles said. The day after the crash, the answering machine filled up with messages from relatives and friends. Boyles tried to keep up with the messages, he said, but in the end, he quit trying.

“The answering machine today still has Hollie’s message on it,” Boyles said.

Even now, strangers who see the gate open at his driveway will stop to offer sympathy and let him know that they are praying for him, Boyles said.

“You can’t cut the grass without rolling over the places where Hollie, Shelby and Breanna died,” Boyles said. “There’s still blood on the fences. Body fluids are still in the trees.”

‘I just pray this will make a difference’

Sergio Molina was riding in the bed of the defendant’s pickup and was thrown out. He is paralyzed.

Michael Lane, 17, testified that he was Molina’s best friend. Doctors expected Molina to die, but now he communicates by blinking once for yes and twice for no, Lane said.

“It kind of made me sad because I started to think how miserable he must be,” Lane said. “He can understand everything that’s going on, but he can’t do anything about it.”

Marla Mitchell, Breanna Mitchell’s mother, wears a necklace adorned with a silver rose charm and an engagement ring that belonged to her daughter. The rose charm contains some of her daughter’s ashes, the mother said outside the courtroom during a recess.

The driver responsible for the deaths can never make up for the families’ losses, Mitchell said.

The trial’s outcome is in God’s hands, she said. “I just pray that this will make a difference in the minds of children,” Mitchell said. “If you’ve been drinking and you can’t get a cab, just stay where you are.”

Testimony is expected to continue for two more days before Boyd passes sentence.

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