Waxahachie man gets 10 years in manslaughter case
By 08/23/2001 00:00:00
The Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - The fact that 21-year-old Robert Weir of Waxahachie will go to prison for a minimum of four months, does not seem fair to Ray Vantreese, who lost his mother forever because Weir was driving while drunk nearly one year ago.
Weir's attorneys entered a plea of guilty Friday, Aug. 10 to a charge of intoxication manslaughter and agreed to a 10-year sentence for the death of a Frost resident, Donna Vantreese, 37, in an automobile accident near Forreston on Oct. 21, 2000.
According to Ellis County Assistant District Attorney Don Maxfield, who prosecuted the case, Weir will be eligible for release under probation within 120 to 180 days after he is incarcerated, only if the penitentiary officials deem so.
Maxfield said penitentiary officials would make the decision based on the case, Weir's behavior and his rehabilitation progress.
'We were told the D.A. had a very good case and thought he (Robert Weir) would get 20 years,' said Vantreese.
Donna Vantreese was driving home from her work in DeSoto about 2 a.m. on Oct 21, 2000, when struck by the vehicle Weir was driving.
Vantreese was pronounced dead at the scene and Weir was arrested and later charged with intoxication manslaughter.
Weir tested .10-alcohol blood level at the time of the accident. A .08 level is the current legal intoxication level by Texas law.
Ray Vantreese said the assistant D.A. told the family, 'We have enough to convict him (Weir).'
'He said with the witnesses and blood alcohol level, he (Weir) could get 20 years,' said Vantreese.
Maxfield said intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony and is punishable by two to 20 years in a penitentiary or anything in between, including as little as two years probation.
Vantreese said when the case was supposed to begin and jurors were to be chosen, Maxfield announced a plea bargain, reducing the possible time Weir would have to serve to only six months.
He said the intoxication manslaughter charge was reduced to vehicular manslaughter.
Maxfield said the charge was not reduced and Weir was found guilty of intoxication manslaughter.
'I wanted to make sure he didn't go free, but actually got penitentiary time - and I accomplished that,' said Maxfield.
He said, Weir had no prior arrests, no evidence of bad character, a lot of people to testify on his behalf, expert witnesses and able representation.
'Quite often juries do tend to sympathize with young offenders in cases like this, where the defendant didn't intend to hurt anyone,' said Maxfield.
Maxfield said it is always a judgment call to evaluate the case based on what the prosecution thinks the jury might do, and try to make an offer for that or better. He said he did inform the family about this reasoning before the trial.
Kathleen Smith, a Mothers Against Drunk Drivers victim assistance coordinator, said, 'Understandably the family was very upset (about the sentence).'
Smith said the family felt like there should have been a jury trial and were prepared to go to court when the offender's attorneys worked out a deal.
She said Maxfield met with the family a week prior and they were aware a deal could be made, but, 'We all expected it to go to court - so they were all surprised.'
'Mr. Maxfield did try to get the very best he could,' said Smith.
She said it was not uncommon for 95 to 98 percent of these type of cases to be pled out.
'It really is a very good result for this type of case,' said Maxfield.
He said it really is up to Weir what happens. 'He will serve time in a penitentiary, but it also gives him some time to be rehabilitated and make something of himself.
'I hope people get from this case, that if they get in a car - drink and drive, they are going to go to a penitentiary,' said Maxfield