ALABAMA: Former Space Shuttle Commander James Halsell enters guilty plea to DUI that killed two children


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Astronaut James Halsell has pleaded guilty to the deaths of two sisters four years after he was involved in a car wreck where they were killed along Hwy. 82 in Tuscaloosa County.

James Halsell, 64, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and assault driving under the influence at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse Thursday in the deaths of Niomi James, 11, and Jayla Parler, 13. He subsequently received a split sentence where he would serve four years in prison and 10 years on probation. FOR MORE


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Prosecutors said on Thursday that Halsell had consumed alcohol and an unknown amount of medication at a Motel 6 just hours before the crash occurred. At that time, Halsell was on probation in connection with a drinking and driving conviction in California.

The girls’ father was driving their vehicle on U.S. Highway 82 in Tuscaloosa County when it was struck from behind by another vehicle traveling at a high speed, which sent the family’s vehicle tumbling through the median, prosecutors said.

The father was knocked unconscious and his fiancee’s back was broken in two spots.

“It is difficult to say that a 13-year-old did not die quickly enough,” Webb said, as he detailed the girls’ final moments and suffering to the court.

If not for the fatal crash, Jayla, the older of the two sisters, would have graduated from high school this year. The younger, Niomi, would be preparing to take her driver’s license exam in a few months. She would have turned 16 in August. At the time of their deaths, Jayla aspired to be a teacher and Niomi dreamt of becoming a police officer.

Both parents were able to express their feelings of loss to the court before sentencing. One of Halsell’s attorneys reflected on Halsell’s career and professional accomplishments.  READ MORE