Ex-astro­naut charged with mur­der in car wreck that killed 2

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

BIRM­ING­HAM, Ala.— Astro­naut James Halsell Jr. seemed the very def­i­ni­tion of some­one with the right stuff. An Air Force Academy grad­u­ate and dec­o­rated test pilot, he com­manded or pi­loted five space shut­tle mis­sions. NASA even turned to him for lead­er­ship as it was pick­ing up the pieces af­ter the Columbia dis­as­ter in 2003.

Now, a decade af­ter his re­tire­ment from the space agency, the 59-year-old Halsell’s life has taken a shock­ing turn: He is charged with mur­der af­ter an early morn­ing car wreck Mon­day killed two young sis­ters on a lonely stretch of high­way in Alabama.

State po­lice said al­co­hol and speed may have been fac­tors in the crash. The Tuscaloosa News (http://bit.ly/1t6Gcxp) re­ported that court doc­u­ments showed troop­ers said they found an empty pack­age of sleep­ing pills and an empty wine bot­tle in a mo­tel room where Halsell had stayed be­fore the crash.

Troop­ers said a ve­hi­cle driven by Halsell col­lided about 2:50 a.m. with a Ford Fi­esta in which 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13year-old Jayla La­trick Par­ler were rid­ing. The girls were thrown from the car and died. Nei­ther was wear­ing a seat belt.

Halsell, who lives in Huntsville, was ar­rested and re­leased from jail on $150,000 bail. Court records weren’t avail­able Tues­day to show whether the re­tired Air Force colonel has a lawyer. A call to his home was not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

The girls’ fa­ther, Per­nell James, 37, had driven to Texas to pick them up at their mother’s home in Hous­ton for a sum­mer-long visit to Alabama, said Den­nis Stripling, mayor of the town of Brent.

“It’s very tragic, a sad thing that has hap­pened,” Stripling said. “They were like 20 min­utes from home when this accident hap­pened.”

The fa­ther was ex­pected to be re­leased from a hospi­tal Tues­day. A woman in his car, Shon­tel La­triva Cutts, 25, was listed in fair con­di­tion.

The crash hap­pened in a re­mote, wooded area on the edge of Tuscaloosa County with no high­way lamp­posts. A set of swerv­ing skid marks could be seen, along with a patch of black­ened pave­ment and grass on the tree-lined shoul­der of the high­way.

Halsell, who told of­fi­cers he was driv­ing to Louisiana to pick up his son, did not re­mem­ber the wreck, doc­u­ments said.

Halsell’s ve­hi­cle rear-ended the car car­ry­ing the chil­dren, doc­u­ments showed, push­ing the ve­hi­cle across a lane and caus­ing it to flip.

“Halsell’s speech was slurred, eyes were di­lated, clothes di­sheveled and he was un­sta­ble on his feet and smelled of al­co­hol,” the trooper wrote in a court de­po­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per.

Halsell grad­u­ated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1978 and later fin­ished first in his class at test-pilot school. He wanted to go to space so much he ap­plied for ev­ery NASA astro­naut class from 1978 to 1990, when he was ac­cepted.—AP

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