After hearing a week of testimony about two collisions on an Arlington freeway that killed a husband, wife and their infant daughter, a Tarrant County jury handed down guilty verdicts on all three counts of intoxication manslaughter on Thursday.
Defendant Benjamon Ray Stewart was driving drunk when he rear-ended a Toyota on a poorly-lit section of Interstate 30, putting the family inside at risk, prosecutors said. The jury received the case about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, and then took the rest of the afternoon and about 90 minutes Thursday morning before reaching a verdict.
Stewart, 43, was indicted on three counts of intoxication manslaughter in the deaths of Najib Intidam, 40, his wife, Hanane, 27, and their 11-month-old daughter, Nour.
“This is not complicated,” said Katie Woods, Tarrant County prosecutor, told the jury on Wednesday. “But for his conduct those people would not have died. But for his being intoxicated Nour’s parents would have gotten a chance to see her first birthday, see her take her first steps, see her go to school and maybe one day see her get married.”
Prosecutor Paige McCormick said in her closing argument: “Without giving his name, without rendering any aid, he ran away. He knew these people needed help.”
Stewart’s attorney, Michael Frederick, told jurors that his client may have been drunk and may have hit the car, but it was a second vehicle — a pickup pulling a trailer — that hit the car with greater force, causing the family’s fatal injuries.
The pickup driver’s inattention killed the family, Frederick said in closing.
The maximum sentence on each count is 20 years in prison. Stewart was also indicted on a charge of failure to stop and render aid, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Stewart has elected to allow state Disctrict Judge Scott Wisch set a sentence.
Najib Intidam was pronounced dead at the wreck scene in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 30 between Eastchase Parkway and Fielder Road in Arlington at 2:36 a.m. July 24, 2013. His wife and daughter were pronounced dead soon afterward at an Arlington hospital.
“No matter what way you cut this cake, the defendant is responsible,” Woods said. “It’s your job to tell him he’s responsible and that it’s not OK to blame anyone else.”
Witnesses testified that after Stewart’s Dodge Ram plowed into the rear of the Intidams’ Toyota, their car sat in a middle lane of the freeway for more than three minutes before it was struck again from the rear by a Ford F-450 pickup pulling two commercial mowers on a flatbed trailer.
The pickup hit the Toyota with 29 times more force than the Dodge Ram, according to Tim Lovett, an accident reconstruction expert who testified Wednesday. But the pickup driver was not responsible for the second collision, Lovett said.
“The whole event was started in the initial collision when Ben Stewart struck their car in the rear,” Lovett said.
After the wreck, Stewart ran into nearby woods and hid, McCormick said. Almost an hour after the initial 911 calls, firefighters using a thermal imaging device found Stewart. When Stewart’s blood was finally tested nearly four hours after the collision, his blood alcohol content was 0.28, more than three times the legal limit, McCormick reminded jurors during her closing argument.
Frederick said the state’s case was made up of “but fors” and supposition. He urged jurors to “be courageous.”
“Everybody hates intoxicated driving; everybody hates when innocent people die,” Frederick said. “This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, but Ben Stewart is not criminally responsible under our law.”