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Family plans to challenge plea deal for driver responsible for son’s death in Lakeway crash

Orignally published on 2021-12-07 21:55:18 by news.yahoo.com

The family of a man who was killed in a Lakeway car crash plans to urge a Travis County state district judge to reject a plea deal for probation and instead sentence the driver to prison.

The driver, 32-year-old Cameron O’Connell, pleaded guilty last month to criminally negligent homicide after colliding head-on with Michael Babineaux, a 36-year-old Marble Falls physician and father. O’Connell was arrested on a charge of manslaughter several months after the 2018 crash.

After examining the evidence and consulting with O’Connell’s attorney, the Travis County district attorney’s office said it had determined that the best course of action was a plea deal for three years of probation.

Babineaux’s family disagrees.

“It was an insult to us. … He did not fight for my son,” Wallace Babineaux said of Travis County DA José Garza.

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Michael Babineaux, a 36-year-old Marble Falls physician and father, died in a 2018 car crash.

On Oct. 29, 2018, O’Connell was driving a pickup west on Texas 71 and tailgating other vehicles, according to an arrest affidavit that cites witnesses. O’Connell drove into the center turn lane, a clearly marked “no passing zone,” and sped up to pass a white SUV he was tailgating, the document says.

Other witnesses stated that the SUV cut O’Connell off, “causing him to either have to rear-end that person or swerve,” said O’Connell’s attorney, Chris Perri. “He swerved into an open passing lane, but the gravel in that lane caused him to then spin out of control.”

After that, O’Connell’s vehicle veered into the lane of oncoming traffic and collided with the BMW SUV that Babineaux was driving. Babineaux, who was on his way to pick up his child from preschool, died at the scene.

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Cameron O'Connell pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide after a fatal car crash.

Cameron O’Connell pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide after a fatal car crash.

Babineaux’s third child was born three days after his death, said his mother-in-law, Yolanda Ramirez.

“A life was taken in a very negligent way by a man who decided that the road was his,” she said.

O’Connell had been ticketed for speeding in an earlier 2018 crash that injured a woman on RM 620, according to a lawsuit that was dismissed.

Ramirez and Wallace Babineaux said they plan to attend O’Connell’s sentencing Friday and urge state District Judge Dayna Blazey to give him the maximum two years in jail for criminally negligent homicide.

The outcome of O’Connell’s case is in line with what judges and juries in Travis County have done in the past for negligent traffic fatalities where the driver was not intoxicated, the Travis County DA’s office said in a statement.

“The outcome of this case will send a clear message that dangerous driving can result in serious criminal consequences. … Our hearts continue to break for Dr. Babineaux and his family — we know that the criminal process has been long and understandably frustrating for them,” DA’s office statement says.

Perri said that, had this case gone to trial, a jury might not have given O’Connell jail time or found him guilty at all. The evidence was not as strong as it could have been because Texas Department of Public Safety troopers did not record all witness interviews via bodycam, nor did they sufficiently document details about the crash scene, Perri said.

DPS declined to respond to the allegations.

Probation “does put somebody under the supervision of the state for three years,” Perri said.

If O’Connell violates his probation, he will face jail time.

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The proposed probation conditions would require O’Connell to submit to random alcohol and drug tests, to remain in Travis County unless he gets a travel permit from his probation officer, and to complete community service that requires him to clean the cemetery where Babineaux was buried.

“If you put people in prison, you’ve ripped them out of their lives,” Perri said. “Then, when you release them back into the world, they have very handicapped prospects. You’re much more likely to reoffend if society is outcasting you and you have very few prospects. It sometimes becomes a survival issue in this country.”

Babineaux’s family said they do not believe a probation sentence over a jail sentence is justice.

“This man needs to be punished for taking a life,” Wallace Babineaux said. “For a man to kill another man and get probation, that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Update: This article has been updated with a statement from the Travis County district attorney’s office.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Michael Babineaux family to challenge Cameron O’Connell plea deal

Orignally published on 2021-12-07 21:55:18 by news.yahoo.com

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