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Witnesses recount Fort Worth officer's fiery death

FORT WORTH -- Rogello Delgado couldn’t change the flat tire on his friend Adriana Delgadillo’s BMW.

Neither could Fort Worth Officer Dwayne Freeto, who had responded to the young’s couple early morning plea for help.

Freeto retreated to his patrol car, which was parked behind the BMW, while the couple awaited a wrecker.

All of a sudden, Delgadillo’s phone flew from her hand as Freeto’s patrol car slammed into the back of her BMW. Delgado quickly pulled his friend from the BMW and into his pickup. He then raced to Freeto’s car, where he used his fists and a tire iron, to try and break the windows of the flaming patrol car and save the officer’s life.

It was no use. Freeto was trapped and died of burns that were so severe, he had to be identified through dental records, according to court testimony.

Delgado and Delgadillo were the among the first witnesses to testify Monday the trial of Samuel Lee Hilburn, who is accused of being drunk and slamming into the back of a Freeto’s parked patrol car, killing him.

Hilburn, 22, of Fort Worth, is being tried on a charge of intoxication manslaughter. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison. Because he has never been convicted of a felony, he is also eligible for probation.

During his opening statement, prosecutor Mark Thielman, who is trying the case with Richard Alpert, said Freeto had stopped in the early morning hours of Dec. 17, 2006, on Interstate 35W to help a stranded motorist with her flat tire. Freeto was in the driver’s seat of his patrol car when a Lexus, driven by Hilburn, crashed into his car, starting a fire and trapping him.

Freeto, a 34-year-old father of two girls, died at the scene. Hilburn was burned and was hospitalized for almost three weeks.

“We have evidence about two men - one who stopped to help and one who drove too fast and too recklessly and had to much too drink,” Thielman said. “We will ask you for a verdict of guilty for the crime he has been charged.”

Defense attorney Okey Akpom, in his opening statement, called Freeto’s death a “terrible tragic accident.” However, Akpom contended that prosecutors will not be able to prove that intoxication or reckless driving, alone, was the cause of the wreck.

“Yes, Sammy drank that night,” Akpom siad. “He wishes everyday that he were not there. But drinking alone did not cause this accident.”

The trial is being held in state district Judge Elizabeth Berry’s court. On Monday morning, one side of the courtroom was filled with Freeto’s family and uniformed officers, including Fort Worth Chief Patricia Kneblick.