Prosecutor calls Texas church bus crash a “mass killing”
Jack Dillon Young, 21, is charged with two counts of violating the conditions of his release, according to the Uvalde County Jail.
© Uvalde County Jail
UVALDE — One by one, the names of the 13 elderly church members who died last year in one of the state’s worst traffic accidents were read aloud Wednesday in the sentencing hearing of the driver who plowed into their bus.
“They were all killed by Jack Dillon Young,” District Attorney Daniel Kindred said after naming the victims before District Judge Camile DuBose and more than 50 spectators.
“This was a mass killing not an accident,” he added, while also asserting that Young was in state of “severe intoxication” when he drove his large pickup into the small church bus on March 29, 2017.
Young, 21, of Leakey, pleaded no contest in June to 13 counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count intoxication assault. His sentencing hearing here could last several days. He faces up to life in prison.
The National Traffic Safety Board concluded recently that Young’s drug-impaired driving led to the crash.
The agency said he lost control of his truck on U.S. 83 north of Uvalde because he had misused the prescription anti-depressant clonazepam and had smoked marijuana.
The sentencing hearing will include testimony from family and friends of the victims.
“Obviously, since the accident, they have been waiting for a judicial outcome. I’m hoping that this chapter of the entire event will be closed,” said Brad McLean, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Braunfels. The victims were returning from a church retreat in the Hill Country.
In his opening remarks, Young’s lawyer, Rogelio F. Muñoz asked for mercy, calling Young a “boy” and describing the crash as an accident.
He also shared intimate details of his client’s “tragic childhood” and blamed his doctors.
“My client has accepted responsibility for each and every one of these charges. We are not here to make excuses,” Muñoz began.
But he said that as the child of alcoholics and the victim of a sexual assault, Young suffered from depression and was prescribed anti-depressant drugs.
But, Muñoz claimed, the doctors failed to monitor Young’s intake, leading him to “over-medicate” himself.
“That’s the tragedy of this situation. It was a terrible accident, and all these wonderful people died, but he took the medication because the doctors told him to take it,” Muñoz said.
Wearing a black suit jacket and white shirt, Young sat next to his lawyer at the defense table. His father and other family members attended the hearing.
Across the room sat several dozen church and family members.
Tears flowed on both sides of the aisle during testimony of the horrific accident.
It began with the first witness, Jody Kuchler, who with his wife had been driving behind Young. They were so alarmed by his driving they made a 14-minute video of the veering truck, and also tried to call police to intervene.
Kuchler testified that the video, which was played in court, ended just 12 seconds before the fatal accident.
Fighting his emotions, Kuchler told of running to the smashed van and looking inside for survivors.
“You couldn’t even tell there was a driver. There were two people on the floor dead,” he began. “No one in that van was crying. They never asked me for help. Two ladies were conscious. They looked at me. I said, ‘Hang on, I’ve got help on the way.’”
Only one passenger in the van survived.
Kuchler said that when he approached Young, trapped in his truck, he asked him, “Do you know what you just did?”
“And he said, “I’m sorry, I was texting.” The NTSB later found that his cellphone use did not cause the crash.
At the close of his testimony, Kuchler turned to Young and addressed him again.
“You aren’t a boy. You are a grown man. You make choices. You made wrong choices,” he said
Emergency workers and law enforcement officers who had responded to the scene or later worked to analyze it also testified.
Lt. Aaron Fritch, leader of the Department of Public Safety’s state crash reconstruction team, described some of the contents of the cellphone that was seized from Young.
Although the phone did not show Young to be texting at the time of the accident, it revealed another side of him.
The phone contained numerous text messages about “bud, smoke, bars, green, ’shroons, X and oxy’s,” as well as exchanges about drug transactions involving Young as the seller.
Seated in the second row, Betty McLean, no relation to the preacher, wore a picture pinned to her chest of her deceased sister, Avis Scholl Banks.
She said Banks, who was 83, always went to the church retreats in Leakey.
“I have asked myself what I actually feel. I don’t want to see him go free. There are hard feelings, but I’m approaching it from a Christian standpoint,” she said of Young.
“I would like to stick my finger in his face, and say, ‘I’m hurt and all of the grandchildren are hurt more. They don’t have her anymore,’” she said of her sister. “I’m curious if he understands the extent of the suffering and pain.”
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