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Classmates frustrated, angry about wreck that killed Argyle girl

Sadness, frustration, anger were expressed Tuesday by Argyle Middle School students grieving a classmate who died Easter Sunday in a wreck involving a man suspected of driving drunk.

Grief counselors were at the school for a second day Tuesday to help students cope with the loss of 13-year-old Autumn Caudle.

The eighth-grader died Sunday morning at a Dallas hospital. Her mother, Kandace Hull, 33, died at the scene of the wreck on Interstate 35E in Lewisville.

But grief also inspired creativity at the middle school Tuesday, where students were honoring their classmate who played basketball and befriended everyone.

Principal Scott Gibson said students decorated Autumn's locker.

Superintendent Telena Wright said others created t-shirts with the slogan: "There are four seasons, but only one Autumn."

"She always had a smile for others," Wright said. "This is such a huge tragedy for her family, but also for her family here at school."

"She was," Gibson added, "the type of girl who just everyone liked. When we were trying to figure out who her best friend was, it was difficult, because she had so many.

"She could move from group to group."

Classmates and teachers also struggled on Tuesday to understand why the wreck happened.

John Patrick Barton, 29, of Lewisville, thrice convicted of driving while intoxicated, now faces murder charges because of the wreck. He was still hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition.

"Students, parents and teachers see this as a senseless tragedy," Wright said. "To us, it could have been prevented."

Witnesses told investigators that Barton was speeding and driving erratically about 2 a.m. on northbound Interstate 35E in Lewisville.

The witnesses said that the black Mazda he was in slammed into the back of a red Nissan sedan driven by Autumn's mother.

Kandace was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner's office.

Autumn died at 10:22 a.m. Sunday at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Kandace's husband, Anthony Hull, 33, and two other children, a son, 12, and daughter, 16, survived the wreck, but were hospitalized.

Anthony Hull was listed in good condition Tuesday at Parkland. The conditions of the children, however, were unavailable.

History of DWIs

Barton's first arrest for drunken driving was in 1997 in Denton, according to Denton County court records. He was convicted and sentenced to 120 days in the county jail, 24 months probation, 80 hours of community service, fines and fees.

A second conviction in August 2001 resulted from another DWI arrest in Denton, the records show. Barton was then sentenced to 300 days in jail, 30 months probation, 100 hours of community service, fines and fees.

Barton went to a state penitentiary on April 18, 2008, after his conviction in a Tarrant County district court for driving while intoxicated -- felony repetition.

He was arrested for that offense on June 19, 2006 in Grapevine, records show.

Barton was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison, but he was paroled on Jan. 22, 2009, according to records kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

A condition of his release was that he not drive a vehicle unless it was equipped with an interlock device that requires a breathalyser reading of the driver's breath before the engine can be started.

If it registers alcohol, the car won't start.

The car Barton drove in the crash did not belong to him and it had no interlock device, said Capt. Jay Powell, Lewisville police spokesman.

"If he's out, he has rules he is supposed to follow," Powell said. "And, when he didn't follow them -- you see the consequences.

"All these things, like laws, are for the people who follow them. But he was in trouble in the first place for not obeying them. So why are we surprised he's driving a car without an interlock on it?"

Wright said students, teachers and parents agree that Barton should have been banned from driving all vehicles.

The driver's license of a repeat offender can be suspended in Texas, but only for a maximum two years, said Richard Alpert, Tarrant County assistant district attorney.

"I know that in Texas, they're reluctant to take someone's driver's license away because people have to work," Wright said. "But, yet, (Barton) should not have been able to get behind the wheel of a car.

"It points out some big holes in the legal system in the state of Texas."

Alpert said there are about 5,500 to 6,000 DWI cases each year in Tarrant County, and about 30 percent of them are repeat offenders.

“That shows most learn from the first DWI conviction,” Alpert said.

But repeat offenders at 30 percent means there are an estimated 1,800 people who continue to drive drunk, and endanger more lives.

Alpert said he hoped the latest Barton case would inspire the Legislature to suspend licenses longer for repeat offenders.

“Sure, there are some rules that will never serve as a deterrent," he said, "but maybe in this case it would have worked.

“We have to start somewhere.”

Donations to the "Hull Family Memorial Fund" can be made at any at Wells Fargo branch.

(Staff writer Melody McDonald and librarian Kathy Belcher contributed to this report.)

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