Former Cowboy Brent already had his second chance

01/23/2014 11:32 PM

01/24/2014 9:29 AM

In a Dallas courtroom Thursday, jurors who may have wanted to give Josh Brent a second chance were told an important fact.

This was his second chance, and maybe his third, and he tragically failed it.

During the first day of the sentencing phase of Brent’s trial for the intoxication manslaughter death of his Dallas Cowboys teammate, Jerry Brown, prosecutors introduced witnesses from the former lineman’s previous drunken driving arrest, four years ago in Illinois.

Whether that influences jurors or not remains to be seen. But it should.

Drunk drivers tend to be chronic offenders. Most of us, sadly, know the drill.

You have a couple of drinks. You’re convinced you’re sober enough to drive home. When you make it to your driveway safely, you feel emboldened. You can handle your liquor, you conclude.

And so the next time you go out, you drink again — maybe even have a drink or two more.

The former executive director of the North Texas Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said that the average drunk driver gets behind the wheel “70 to 80 times” before finally being arrested.

Josh Brent had his warning, his DUI probation, when he was a college student four years ago. Yet in December of 2012, according to testimony in his Dallas trial, Brent climbed behind the wheel of his car and drove 110 mph after consuming an estimated 17 drinks.

After the jury rendered its guilty verdict, a defense attorney suggested Thursday that Brent is being singled out “because he is a Dallas Cowboy.”

According to attorney Kevin Brooks, there are 34 people in Dallas County who are on probation after convictions for intoxication manslaughter. Why not Brent, he asked?

The insinuation is beyond offensive. Brent’s behavior caused the death of a teammate. What part of the trial’s evidence —the victim’s life or Brent’s failed toxicology test — suggested that the court was picking on him because he was a Cowboy?

To Sean Bass, the Brent trial brings back tragic memories of September 2012, when a drunken driver took the life of 24-year-old Heather VanHoozer, Bass’ girlfriend.

The driver that struck Bass’ car, 18-year-old Osvaldo Cerda, pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Judge Dominique Collins to the maximum of 20 years.

“You’re not getting out of this one,” Collins said.

Bass, a reporter for KTCK-The Ticket, spoke on the radio about the accident a few months later.

“Just learn from this,” he said. “This can happen to you.”

A key part of Thursday’s testimony came from Stacey Jackson, Brown’s mother. She testified that she forgives Brent and that “Jerry would have wanted” his friend to not have to go to jail.

But that’s why moms don’t get to render sentences, prosecutors pointed out. Mercy is not the same as justice.

While Brent was free on bond awaiting trial, according to testimony, the Dallas DA’s office was notified four times of “anomalies” in the monitoring device that he was forced to wear. He also failed two drug tests.

Because of his DUI case in Illinois, Brent was required to have an ignition interlock device on his vehicle. But he was able to skirt that here by not having a valid driver’s license or insurance.

Drunken drivers are usually chronic offenders.

Who can say with any assurance that a Brent on parole wouldn’t climb behind the wheel and drive under the influence again?

“I realize I’m biased,” Bass said by phone Thursday. “But even 20 years is not enough to curtail things like this.”

In a sad and tragic way, Bass agreed, it may help to save lives that a former Dallas Cowboy player will pay such a high price.

One of them already has.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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