TUSCALOOSA COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) – Former astronaut James Halsell, Jr. has been charged with two counts of reckless murder after a collision took the lives of two young girls early Monday morning around 2:50 a.m.
A sworn deposition from state troopers and a witness that stopped at the scene of the crash to help says Halsell was so intoxicated, he tried to leave the scene in the witness’s car, and asked to see the bodies.
Troopers say a car driven by Halsell collided with a Ford Fiesta in which the girls were passengers. Both victims were ejected from the vehicle and died.
According to court records, the deposition states that James Donald Halsell, Jr. admitted he rented a Chrysler 200 around 10 or 11 p.m. on June 5 and was driving the car alone when the accident occurred. The other car in the accident, the Ford Fiesta, had four passengers in the vehicle. Jayla Latrice Parler, 12, and Niomi Deona James, 11, were killed in the accident. The driver, Parnell Deon James, and the other passenger, Shontel Latrivia Cutts, were injured.
The victims’ father Parnell James was driving the Fiesta and said he was traveling east bound in the right lane on Highway 82 around the speed limit of 65 miles per hour. The deposition describes what happened in the crash: their car was struck from behind by Halsell’s vehicle that was traveling at a very high speed with so much force that the victims’ Fiesta was crushed and pushed across the left hand east bound lane of Highway 82 into the median. The car flipped at least two times before landing in the left west bound lane.
The deposition says all physical evidence was consistent with the victim’s account. This included scuff, skid and metal marks on the road ways and medians. Physical evidence observed and collected by ALEA also indicates that Halsell was travelling at a very high rate of speed when he crashed into the Ford Fiesta.
After police arrived to the scene at 3:14 a.m., Halsell was detained and secured in a police car. Officers and witnesses stated, according to the deposition, that Halsell appeared to be intoxicated;, reporting that his speech was slurred, his eyes were dilated, his clothes were disheveled, he was unstable on his feet and he smelled of alcohol. He reportedly admitted to drinking three glasses of wine earlier that evening.
Halsell tried to flee the scene of the crime by taking the truck of a witness, Juan Jose Gomez Ibarra, who had stopped to help the victims, the deposition details. Halsell made many nonsensical statements around 5 a.m. that indicated he was very intoxicated, the depositions says. According to the deposition, Halsell said he thought he was traveling on I-20, but did not remember leaving the hotel or the crash.
Police searched the area and Halsell’s car, but there was no evidence that he had ingested any alcohol or drugs following the crash. According to the deposition, Halsell stated the only alcohol or drugs he ingested were the three glasses of wine he had consumed at the Motel 6 in Tuscaloosa. Police searched his motel room and reportedly found an empty wine bottle and a 10-sleeping pill package that was empty.
Halsell bonded out of jail on $150,000. The community of Brent is rallying behind the victims’ family, and any wishing to help can drop off donations at the Brent City Hall.