Fort Worth

Woman convicted in wreck that killed soldier

Beth Branum, a former nurse and mother of three, was convicted Tuesday of intoxication manslaughter in the death of a soldier.
Beth Branum, a former nurse and mother of three, was convicted Tuesday of intoxication manslaughter in the death of a soldier. Star-Telegram archives

A 31-year-old mother of three from Granbury was convicted Tuesday of intoxication manslaughter in an early morning wreck in Euless that killed a soldier about two years ago.

Prosecutors said Beth Branum, a former trauma nurse, “was speeding and blew through a red light” about 5 a.m. March 9, 2014, when she hit Brandon Bennett, 20, of Hurst, who was on his way to Lewisville for drills with the Texas Army National Guard.

Branum was traveling about 60 mph at the time of impact. The speed limit is 35 mph. According to prosecution witnesses, Branum’s blood-alcohol content was more than 0.095 when she was tested, higher than the legal limit of 0.08.

Defense attorney George Mackey disputed the reliablity of the testing used to calculate the blood-alcohol level. He also said in his closing statement that Branum’s 2007 Dodge Caliber was subject to a recall because of the possibility that the accelerator pedal could stick.

“I submit to you this accelerator pedal was the cause of this accident,” Mackey said. “This is a dangerous malfunction which can cause a crash.”

Prosecutors Kacey Fickes and Richard Alpert reminded the jury that five people testified that Branum was drunk that morning.

“She was going too fast to avoid this accident,” Alpert said. “If she had not been speeding this would not have happened.”

Testimony began on June 28. Testimony in the punishment phase began late Tuesday and is scheduled to continue Wednesday in state District Judge Louis Sturns’ courtroom.

The maximum sentence is 20 years in prison. Branum has no significant criminal history, so she is eligible for probation.

The scene of the wreck

About 5 a.m., Bennett was northbound in a Honda on Westpark Way when Branum’s Dodge, eastbound in the 2300 block of West Pipeline Road, drove through the intersection and hit Bennett’s car, police said.

Bennett was pronounced dead at 7 a.m. at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford in Bedford.

If she had not been speeding, this would not have happened.

Richard Alpert, Tarrant County prosecutor.

The first person to arrive at the scene was Rebecca Thompson, who is now a teacher but was then a Starbucks employee.

Thompson testified Tuesday that Branum was standing in the street waving her hands to try to get someone’s attention. Branum’s ankle looked swollen, Thompson said. After determining that Branum was not severely injured, she and Branum went to check on the other driver.

Thompson said she stopped before she reached Bennett’s vehicle.

“I could not go to the driver’s side,” Thompson said. “It was clear he was no longer with us.”

Thompson said she then called 911.

Closing arguments

In his closing argument, Mackey said that in 2010, recall notices were sent out regarding sticking acceleration pedals on the 2007 Dodge Caliber that Branum drove. The recall affected more than 25,000 Dodge Calibers, Mackey said.

There was no way that Branum could have known what might happen, Mackey said. In the recall notice, “they didn’t say it could kill people,” Mackey said.

Mackey also argued that the blood samples taken from Branum that morning were mishandled and that the results could not be certified as accurate.

Alpert reminded the jury that, according to testimony, when Branum contacted her boyfriend, he told her that he had also been drinking that night and was in no shape to drive. The boyfriend insisted that she get a cab, rent a room for the night or have one of her friends drive her home, Alpert said during his closing.

“Don’t make this simple case complicated,” Alpert said. “Use your common sense. Bring some justice into this courtroom.”

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

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3