By MARY RAINWATER
A Palestine man has been sentenced to serve the maximum 20 years in prison for manslaughter in the death of another man that occurred as a result of a June 2011 truck versus motorcycle crash.
Anderson County District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher issued the sentence to Larry Wayne Adams, 52, of Palestine for the death of Keith Robert Gardner on Nov. 2 after hearing testimony from the victim’s family as well as a plea for leniency from Adams’ supporters.
The sentence comes after an Anderson County jury returned a guilty verdict to the charge of manslaughter — a second degree felony carrying a possible range of punishment of a minimum of 2 years up to a maximum of 20 years in prison on Aug. 9.
Evidence in the August trial showed that, at approximately 9 p.m. on June 9, 2011, Gardner was traveling westbound on Court Drive in Palestine on a motorcycle when he attempted to turn left onto Bristol Street.
Adams, who was driving a pickup, also westbound, passed a vehicle following behind Gardner’s motorcycle.
The pickup continued in the eastbound lane and then crashed into the motorcycle, which was about half-way through a left turn onto Bristol and near the center of Court Drive, according to trial testimony.
Police believe Adams was driving in excess of 64 miles an hour immediately before impacting the motorcycle. The speed limit on Court Drive is 50 miles per hour.
Adams told investigating officers he thought he had hit a deer.
After impacting the motorcycle, Adam’s truck drug the motorcycle into the bar ditch on the north side of Court Drive. Medical evidence showed Gardner’s death likely was instantaneous and a result of devastating internal injuries.
At the August trial, the jury declined to find Adams guilty of intoxication manslaughter in spite of alcohol and trace amounts of hydrocodone being present in his blood.
District Attorney Doug Lowe said Adams’ blood alcohol level was .06 — below the legal limit of .08 in Texas — following the fatal wreck, but noted the blood draw was performed at a local hospital approximately 90 minutes after the wreck.
“Nevertheless, the jury believed Mr. Adams’ reckless driving after consuming alcohol and drugs justified a guilty verdict for manslaughter,” Lowe said. “And the maximum sentence of 20 years by Judge Fletcher gets a fair measure of justice for Mr. Adams and for the victims.”
Intoxication manslaughter is also a second degree felony carrying possible punishment of up to 20 years.
Anderson County First Assistant District Attorney Stanley Sokolowski represented the state during the jury trial and at the punishment hearing.
“On the day of the wreck. Adams’ license was suspended and he had been arrested for drug possession in December of 2010,” Sokolowski said in his arguments to the court. “Then within a few months after he killed Mr. Gardner, he (Adams) was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia — probably smoking cocaine, on another occasion evading arrest with a vehicle and still driving with his licensed suspended.”
The wife of the victim, Jan Gardner, testified during the punishment hearing and tearfully described how her life “changed in an instant.”
“I had gone to Wal-Mart and Keith had gone riding, and we were supposed to meet at home,” Gardner told the judge. “As I turned on Court Drive I saw the lights on the police cars and I wondered aloud what had happened. I called Keith on his cell phone — he didn’t answer. I’ll never talk to him again.”
After Adams was sentenced by Fletcher, Gardner was able to address Adams directly in her victim’s impact statement.
“You made a decision that robbed me from ever seeing my husband again,” she said. “You drove intoxicated and you robbed Keith of enjoying the retirement he had worked 30 years at TDC to get.
“The very next day, the day after Keith was killed; that was supposed to be the first day of his retirement and you took from us what could have been some of the happiest days of our lives,” she continued. “I married Keith when I was 16 and he was 18. Keith was my best friend, the only man I was ever with, the only man I ever loved, and now he’s gone — it’s horrible.”
Because the jury found that Adams had used his truck as a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense he will have to do at least 10 years of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Amy Wiginton, probation officer for the Anderson County Adult Community Supervisions and Corrections Department, prepared the defendant’s pre-sentence investigation for the hearing.
Local attorney Scott Nicholson represented Adams at trial and the punishment hearing.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org