Uncle sentenced to life for drunk-driving death of niece

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A lifetime prison sentence was handed down by a Henderson County court for a Palestine man accused of a fatal 2009 drunk-driving accident. The single-vehicle car accident claimed the life of the defendant's adult niece.

Athens police detectives say the 41-year-old driver admitted he had spent the night before the crash drinking three or four beers. The suspect allegedly also smoked crack about five hours before his 1994 Plymouth Acclaim went out of control in the 600 block of South Palestine Street.

A driver who was stopped in traffic at the Ben Belt Drive intersection told police she witnessed the crash. The northbound Plymouth was seen crossing southbound traffic lanes before slamming into a tree.

The Dallas County medical examiner testified that a 21-year-old female passenger, who was the driver's niece, suffered catastrophic injuries including blunt force trauma, several fractures and lacerations to her kidney and liver. The mother of two died within hours of the crash at East Texas Medical Center. The driver blamed for the fatal crash was treated at the same hospital and released less than a week later.

Investigators say the defendant claimed to be on the way to meet his parole officer at the time of the morning rush hour accident. The Palestine man had been imprisoned five times. The suspect got out of jail just two months prior to the deadly accident.

The jury agreed with prosecutors' suggestions and sent the convicted drunk driver back to prison for at least the next 30 years. The defendant's first eligibility for parole will occur when he is 71-years-old.

Source: kltv.com, "Jury sentences ETX man in fatal 2009 crash," Elizabeth Thomas, Jan. 13, 2012