Driver pleaded guilty to manslaughter in fatal 2017 wrong-way Loop 289 crash

The Lubbock County Courthouse.

The Lubbock County Courthouse.

Alexander May faces two to 20 years in prison after a Lubbock jury found him guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of 18-year-old Jonathan Pesqueda after a high-speed, wrong-way head-on collision on an overpass on South Loop 289.

Jurors deliberated for about 30 minutes on Friday before returning to the 140th District Court, where he stood in silence beside his attorneys on May 31 as District Judge Douglas Freitag read their verdict.

Jurors believed May recklessly caused Pesqueda’s death in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2017. They also had the option to find May guilty of one lesser charge including manslaughter, a state prison felony that carries a fine six months to two years in a state prison facility.

Prosecutors alleged multiple reckless acts in which they believed May was involved, including speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving westbound in the eastbound lane of Loop 289, failing to give way, or applying the brakes or maneuvering your vehicle to avoid the accident.

Prosecutor Chris Schulte likened May’s actions that night to someone firing a gun into the air, ignoring the risk of the stray bullet hitting someone.

“But instead of a bullet, Mr. May drove a two-ton vehicle like a missile down (Loop) 289,” he said.

Jurors only had to find that May had committed at least one of those acts beyond a reasonable doubt and did not have to be unanimous as to which act. They also found that May used his Toyota Tacoma as a deadly weapon that day.

May’s defense attorney Fred Stangl told jurors in his closing argument that there was no doubt that his client had caused the collision. However, evidence against her client failed to show that she acted recklessly that night, he said.

To find his client guilty, Stangl argued that the evidence would have to show May knowingly ignored a substantial and unjustifiable risk that would have caused an accident that night. Instead, she said her client’s actions were closely aligned with negligence, saying her client should have known her actions would cause the fatal accident, which Stangl also argued was inevitable.

Stangl argued that prosecutors failed to prove to his client that he knew he was driving the wrong way on the Loop and ignored the risk.

“You have to believe he knew he was doing it,” he told jurors. “Who in their right mind would do that?”

Lubbock Police crash investigators told jurors that evidence at the scene showed both vehicles approaching each other as they were climbing either side of the overpass above Indiana Avenue. They said that neither May nor Pesqueda could have met in time to avoid a head-on collision.

A Lubbock Police crash investigator said he used video footage from a nearby building that captured May driving on the Loop moments before the crash and calculated the Tacoma was traveling about 89 mph.

However, prosecutors argued that the evidence clearly showed May’s recklessness.

“This is not a difficult case, this is not a difficult case,” said Mandi Say, Lubbock County’s first assistant district attorney.

He said a reasonable person would know that driving the wrong way on the Loop was inconsiderate. According to the law intoxication is not a defense.

“You can’t have this and the death of one of your citizens and call it an accident,” Say told jurors. “You all know sitting here that you can’t get in the loop and act like that. Because you would be reckless if you did.”

She said that if it weren’t for May’s actions, Pesqueda would still be alive.

“Make no mistake, it’s not just a tragedy, it’s manslaughter,” said Say.

He said there was enough evidence to show that May was driving under the influence of alcohol that night.

May’s passenger, Cody James, did not testify at trial. However, jurors were presented with his statements to paramedics at the scene, saying he didn’t think May was drunk until he started making random U-turns that caused them to travel the wrong way on the lap.

Jurors were also presented with May’s medical records from Covenant Medical Center, where he was treated for injuries sustained in the crash.

Medical records also showed May’s blood alcohol level that night was 0.232%. However, that evidence was inadmissible in court as prosecutors could not call the Covenant technician to testify about how the analysis was done.

Instead, prosecutors used medical records showing multiple statements from doctors indicating they believed May was intoxicated. May was also prescribed medicine to treat alcohol withdrawal.

Stangl argued that the evidence pointing to his client’s intoxication was unreliable.

A Lubbock police officer who spoke with May at Covenant Medical Center said the defendant appeared confused and incoherent. He said May’s behavior, coupled with the smell of alcohol he could smell on the defendant’s breath, led him to conclude that May was drunk that night.

However, Stangl told jurors his client’s behavior could also be explained as the effects of a dose of fentanyl, a paramedic who treated May at the scene said he administered it for pain before taking him to the hospital.

The punitive phase of the trial began after the jury’s guilty verdict was announced and continues on Monday with defense attorneys presenting evidence to show that May, who is eligible for probation, posed no danger to the community.

To recommend probation, jurors will have to give May up to 10 years in prison, which she will be suspended for up to 10 years of community supervision.

While on probation, May will have to obey court-ordered conditions. She faces up to 10 years in prison if her probation is revoked and a court determines that a prison sentence is appropriate. However, the law does provide a way for inmates to petition the court to get out of their community supervision after serving about a third of it.

This article originally appeared in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Alexander May found guilty of manslaughter in 2017 fatal crash

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