A six-person East Baton Rouge Parish jury deliberated less than 45 minutes Thursday before finding a Denham Springs man guilty of vehicular homicide in a speed- and alcohol-related crash in Central that killed a Greenwell Springs teenager in 2011.
James “Trey” Watts III, 32, who was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read, faces a prison term of five to 30 years in the death of Phillip Abington, 16, on Sept. 9, 2011.
At least three years must be served without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. State District Judge Richard Anderson scheduled a May 31 sentencing date.
Abington’s family and several dozen of his school and theater friends packed one side of the courtroom and wore blue ribbons on their clothes to celebrate the life of Abington, whose favorite color was blue.
“This is what we had hoped for, that justice would be served,” Abington’s father, Todd Abington, said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse. “It’s a good day. It’s been a long time in coming.”
“This is the outcome of drinking and driving,” he added.
Todd Abington, who wore the same shirt Thursday that he wore to his son’s funeral, said his family will continue to pray for Watts’ family.
Watts turned toward his family as he was led from the courtroom and said, “Take care of my boy.”
David Bourland, one of Watts’ attorneys, said an appeal is likely.
“I don’t think the jury totally understood the facts of the case, but we respect their decision,” he said.
Prosecutor John Russell said outside the courthouse that Watts’ decision to drive on a two-lane road in rush-hour traffic at speeds of up to 95 mph while intoxicated is “unforgiveable.”
“It (the verdict) was a fantastic vindication of both the law and the (victim’s) family,” he said, adding that the verdict does bring the Abington family some closure but cannot change the tragic events of Sept. 9, 2011.
Phillip Abington, who had a history of performing on stage, was scheduled to make his Theatre Baton Rouge debut that night as one of the cowboys in the musical “Crazy for You.” That night’s opening show had already started but was cut short and canceled when theater officials learned of his death.
State Police Senior Trooper Kevin Biddy testified Wednesday that the crash data recorder inside Watts’ 2005 Chevrolet Silverado indicated the pickup was traveling 87 mph five seconds before the crash, 90 mph four seconds prior to the crash, 93 mph three seconds before the crash, 95 mph two seconds prior to the crash, and 84 mph one second before impact.
The posted speed limit is 45 mph on that stretch of Greenwell Springs Road.
“That truck was going blazingly fast,” Russell told the jury Thursday in his closing argument.
State Police officials have said previously that Abington was turning left onto Greenwell Springs Road from Will Avenue in a 2001 Honda Civic when he was struck by Watts’ truck.
“It was his (Abington’s) obligation to yield the right of way,” Bourland countered in his closing argument. “He failed to yield. No intention, but a costly mistake.”
Russell said Abington “didn’t cause this accident” and added, “No one is ever driving on that road that fast unless they’re drunk or impaired.”
State Police Crime Laboratory toxicologist Robert Spinks testified Wednesday that an analysis of blood taken from Watts two hours after the crash revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.09 percent.
A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving in Louisiana for those 21 and over.