SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — The driver in a 2014 crash in Buda that killed 60-year-old Nancy Sterling-Dalton has been found guilty of murder and intoxication manslaughter.
Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau said 39-year-old Jason Tarr’s trial started on May 1.
The crash happened just after 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014 as Tarr was driving south on Farm to Market 1626 in a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Witnesses following the truck saw Tarr weaving onto the shoulder and crossing the center line before crashing head-on into Sterling-Dalton’s car near Eagle Nest Drive.
Tarr was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. Blood samples obtained confirmed he was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Tarr had previously been charged and convicted of drunk driving in 2002 and 2005.
Since last Monday, there have been moments when the trial became heated. “Find the truth ladies and gentlemen; you know what it is already. Guilty, guilty,” said Mau during closing arguments.
“When does a DWI become a murder? Well, this is when it becomes a murder,” said Assistant Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Stalbaum. “When you have two prior convictions and you commit felony DWI. You were drinking all day at the golf course with your buddies and then you get in your car and you disregard everyone else’s life because of your own selfish desires to drink and have a good time.”
During the trial Stalbaum worked to prove Tarr was intoxicated and guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, even referencing one of Dalton’s doctors. “Nancy would have lived a normal life,” she said. “She had no other disease or malformation in her body that would have caused her death naturally.”
The jury started deliberating Wednesday afternoon and concluded with the guilty verdict Thursday. The sentencing phase is currently underway.
While a murder charge is commonly reserved for suspects who intentionally kill someone, Texas law also allows prosecutors to file murder charges if a suspect kills someone while committing another felony.
While a DWI is normally a misdemeanor, if someone has been convicted at least twice for misdemeanor DWI, each following DWI arrest is considered a felony. So, killing someone in a drunk driving crash opens the possibility of a murder charge and more time in prison.
“I don’t agree with the jury’s verdict, but I certainly have to respect the verdict,” said Tarr’s attorney Billy McNabb.
For over two years, McNabb has been working as Tarr’s attorney. McNabb and his partner consider this verdict unusual. “You just don’t find situations very often that will fit into that felony murder rule,” said Tarr’s attorney Scot Courtney.
The next step for the jury is to determine how long of a sentence Tarr will serve. “I wish this situation would have never occurred obviously, but this is the stage where we have to focus on Mr. Tarr,” said Courtney.
The sentence for Tarr could be anywhere between five to 99 years including life in prison. Because the jury still needs to decide on a sentence, Tarr was allowed to go home with his family Thursday night. The jury will resume in court Friday morning.