Fort Worth

Mom accused of driving drunk and killing Hurst soldier goes on trial

Beth Branum, former nurse and mother of three, faces a 20 year prison sentence if convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the death of a soldier.
Beth Branum, former nurse and mother of three, faces a 20 year prison sentence if convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the death of a soldier. Handout photo

A mother of three accused of driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a soldier from Hurst went on trial Tuesday, six months after a mistrial was declared in her case.

Brandon Bennett, 20, of Hurst was on his way to Lewisville for drills at the Texas Army National Guard early March 9, 2014, when when he was struck by Beth Branum, 31, of Granbury, authorities say.

Officials say Branum, a former wound care nurse at a Granbury nursing home, “was speeding and blew through a red light” in Euless, about five minutes away from Bennett’s house in Hurst.

When first responders arrived, Branum was leaning into Bennett’s vehicle searching for a pulse, Tarrant County prosecutor Kacey Fickes said.

The impact was catastrophic, Fickes said. Bennett was pronounced dead on March 9, 2014, at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford in Bedford.

Branum had multiple chances to find another way home and she did not take them. Brandon never had a chance.

Kacey Fickes, Tarrant County prosecutor.

“This is case about chances,” Fickes told the jury. “Branum had multiple chances to find another way home and she did not take them. Brandon never had a chance.”

Bennett was northbound on Westpark Way when his Honda was hit by the car driven by Branum, police said. She was eastbound on West Pipeline Road when she drove through the intersection and hit Bennett's car, police said.

Branum spent the night before the wreck partying with friends at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar in downtown Fort Worth, according to testimony from a former co-worker, Jacquelyn Seltzer.

When Branum arrived at the bar about 9:45 p.m., she and her friend each had a mixed drink and ordered a beer, Seltzer said. Seltzer said she did not remember how many drinks her party of seven ordered, but she did remember being worried that Branum would not make it safely home.

Seltzer testified that they lived within 15 minutes of each other and she offered Branum a ride home. Seltzer testified that she had arranged to have a designated driver take her home. But Seltzer said Branum refused, saying that she wanted to see her boyfriend that night.

When Branum contacted her boyfriend, he told her he had also been drinking that night and was in no shape to drive, Fickes said in her opening argument. Her boyfriend insisted that Branum get a cab, rent a room for the night or have one of her friends drive her home, Fickes said.

Branum did not like hearing that and hung up, Fickes said.

Seltzer said she never saw Branum leave the nightclub.

But the state’s next witness, Pete’s bar manager, Jay Brechot, testified that he saw videotape of Branum leaving and that her demeanor rang no alarm bells.

Branum walked out of the bar without staggering and appeared to be normal, Brechot said during cross-examination by George Mackey, who is representing Branum.

Brechot testified that he may be a witness in a pending lawsuit that accuses Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar of overserving customers. Brechot said he turned over computer records detailing how many drinks were purchased by Seltzer’s party to an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

But because people often share drinks, it can be difficult to determine how much alcohol a person has consumed by looking at what was purchased, Brechot said. TABC officials cleared Pete’s Piano bar of any charges that it overserved, Brechot said.

Testimony is expected to continue in Branum’s trial on Wednesday in state District Judge Louis Sturns’ court.

Branum’s first trial, in December, was declared a mistrial after a juror told the judge that he knew Bennett and his family.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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