The 21-year-old driver who was formally charged last June for a crash that killed 13 members of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas, lost control of his truck due to use of marijuana combined with his misuse of prescription medication, the National Transportation Safety Board said this week.
“The pick-up truck driver in this crash made terrible choices with tragic consequences,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a news release. “But the rising tide of drug-impaired driving did not begin with this driver, and it will not end with him. Law enforcement needs additional tools and advanced training to detect impaired drivers before they crash, regardless of the impairing drug they’re using.”
The driver, Jack Dillon Young, is currently facing up to 270 years in prison for the crash after he pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges in June.
On March 29 at about 12:25 p.m., Young’s pickup truck crashed into the church’s bus carrying 14 members, including the driver, along U.S. Highway 83 North, just south of Ranch Road 1050 in Uvalde. The church members were a group of older adults who were on their way home from a three-day retreat at Alto Frio Baptist Encampment. Rose Mary Harris, 64, of New Braunfels, was the lone passenger to survive.
Prior to the collision, the NTSB, which does not release the names of parties involved in crashes, noted that the young driver was observed by witnesses driving erratically for more than 15 minutes. Their report also noted that the church bus was not equipped with passenger lap/shoulder belts which would have provided a greater level of protection for passengers who were seated at the back of the bus.
An inspection of the cab of Young’s pick-up truck after the crash revealed unsmoked and partially smoked marijuana cigarettes, drug paraphernalia, and prescription and over-the-counter medication, the NTSB said. Young’s post-crash toxicology test results also revealed the presence of Delta-9-THC, a primary active chemical in marijuana, and clonazepam, a sedative used to treat seizure and panic disorders. Young said he took twice his prescribed dosage of clonazepam prior to the crash.
Young, who is expected to be sentenced next month, pleaded no contest to 13 counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of intoxication assault.
“He figured it would be better to put an end to it, for his sake and for the sake of the families in this tragedy,” Young’s defense attorney, Rogelio Munoz, told KHOU11.
And the families of the victims welcomed Young’s gesture.
“The fact that he has changed and stepped up and doing this, that’s actually, in my opinion, generous on his part, because that means that cuts out a very long process we have to go through,” Charlotte Banks, a daughter of one of the victims, said in June.
Jessica Melott, 43, of New Braunfels, whose mother, Rhonda Allen, 61, died in the crash, told My San Antonio that none of the families of the victims were opposed to the sentence being recommended for Young.
“I would be OK if he’s in jail for the rest of my life. I don’t think I’d be alive at the end [of] the number the DA had, so I’m OK with it,” Melott said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the 13 deceased church members as: Murray William Barrett, 67; Howard Bryan Allen, 81; Rhonda Barlow Allen, 61; Barber, 87; Margret Robinson Barber, 82; Mildred Goodlett Rosamond, 87; Addie Maurine Schmeltekopf, 84; Sue Wynn Tysdal, 76; Martha Holcomb Walker, 84; Dorothy Fern Vulliet, 84, all from New Braunfels. Others who died in the crash are: Cristie Clare Moore, 68 of Cibolo, Texas; Donna Elizabeth Hawkins, 69, of Schertz, Texas, and Avis Scholl Banks, 83 of Austin, Texas.
With the legalization of marijuana for medical as well as recreational purposes across the nation, the incidence of vehicle fatalities is increasing. Many of accidents are later learned to have been caused by drivers high on marijuana or a combination with other drugs.
Missouri has three measures on the Nov. 6 ballot that would legalize medical marijuana.