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Witnesses recall horror of Plano crash that killed five as manslaughter trial begins

By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News

The scene that sunny summer morning was described by witness after witness: horrific, complete carnage, like a bomb had gone off.

“It was worse than anything I’d ever seen,” Samuel Ray testified Monday. He had been sitting at a red light on Legacy Drive in Plano on June 22, 2008, when a black Pontiac G5 sped past him in the grassy area next to the far right lane.

The car went airborne, sheared the top off a minivan carrying a Plano family home from church, struck a pickup and landed on its roof at a nearby gas station. None of the five people in the minivan survived.

David Calhoun Jones, 48, faces five counts of manslaughter in their deaths. His trial began Monday in Collin County. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The wreck that day instantly killed Geoff Hart; his wife, Christy; and their 12-year-old daughter, Rebekah. The family’s two foster children, Kevinnesha Palmer, 6, and Raven Lucas, 5, died later in hospitals.

Prosecutor Bill Dobiyanski told jurors during his opening statement that Jones should be held responsible for the crime.

Jones’ vehicle “literally was a missile that tore through the Harts’ van,” Dobiyanski said. “He killed them needlessly, he killed them violently, and he killed them recklessly.”

Police said in 2008 that data from the rented Pontiac showed it was traveling 98 mph when it crashed.

Jones’ attorney, Bill Booth, said that his client was paralyzed in the wreck and will never walk again. He told jurors that Jones has lived in medical facilities since that day more than two years ago. Earlier this month, he spent nine days in the hospital for a blood infection.

Booth said Jones was on his way to pick up his daughter from his ex-wife’s and had spoken by phone with his daughter just minutes before the wreck.

Booth said what happened was tragic, but it wasn’t a crime. “I believe once you see all the evidence that you will find all of this is a horrible, horrible, horrible accident.”

Gordon Jenner testified Monday that he saw the Pontiac’s driver put up his arms and dive out of his seat as the car was airborne. He said he later saw the driver curled up against the rear windshield as the car lay on its roof.

Bennett Silver was waiting at the red light on Legacy behind two other cars when the Pontiac passed him and crashed.

“There were car parts everywhere,” he said. “It almost looked like, I hate to say this, a bomb hit the area. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Gwen Christian testified that she was headed east on Legacy when the Pontiac drove by in the opposite direction just before the wreck.

“Something flew past me so fast it rocked my car,” she said.

Deidre Wilson said she couldn’t remember the wreck. The marriage therapist testified that she was stopped in the left-turn lane of Custer Road, waiting for a green arrow. The next thing she knew, she was dazed and bleeding. The Pontiac crushed her pickup as it continued its airborne path through the intersection.

“I had no idea what had happened,” Wilson told jurors. She suffered a concussion as well as a shoulder injury and several cuts that required stitches. She told

prosecutors her wounds had healed, but she had not recovered mentally from the crash. Mother’s testimony Several witnesses testified that the Harts never had a chance; their injuries were too severe.

They were a close-knit family who “lived their faith every day,” Geoff Hart’s mother testified. They volunteered extensively at Custer Road United Methodist Church and were willing to help anyone, anytime, Norma Hart said.

Raven and Kevinnesha had lived with the Harts for about three months. They were taken away from their mother in 2007 following accusations of physical abuse. Norma Hart said she had gotten an e-mail the night before the crash: The Harts were going to apply to adopt the two sisters.

Jurors weren’t allowed to hear about the liability insurance lawsuit that Norma Hart’s family filed along with Christy Hart’s family against Jones. Despite requests by the defense, District Judge Quay Palmer ruled that Booth could not question Norma Hart about the $3 million settlement. Her family received $1 million, she testified outside the jurors’ presence.

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