The Leakey man who rammed his pickup truck into a church bus killing 13 people returning to New Braunfels from a senior retreat said he was immensely sorry and wished he had been the one to have perished in the 2017 collision in Uvalde.
In June of this year, 21-year-old Jack Dillon Young pleaded guilty to 13 counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of intoxication assault. Young took the stand Wednesday near the end of his three-day sentencing hearing, which culminated with Judge Camile DuBose handing down a 55-year prison term.
“If anybody, it should’ve been me,” Young testified. “I mean, hell, I’ve tried to kill myself. I don’t get why. They were beautiful people. It should’ve been me.”
Young testified on his own behalf as a way to begin making amends for all of the pain he caused the families of the victims and the lone survivor from the bus, he said. His decision to testify was not to make excuses for what he did. He said he knew it was wrong. Answering attorneys’ questions in court was his way of telling his story, Young told his defense lawyer Rogelio Munoz from the witness stand.
He began that story by detailing a rough childhood that included his sexual abuse at the hands of a man he knew.
“Me and a bunch of my friends were touched by him,” Young said. “On occasion, he raped me.”
After years of suppressing the memory, it resurfaced and he began to self medicate. He also sought help and was prescribed drugs to help with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, anxiety and insomnia, the defendant testified.
Marijuana use was a given with him and his friends at the time, so much so that they almost didn’t consider it a drug, Young testified. He said he smoked marijuana at about 3 a.m. on March 29, 2017. Hours later he picked up his prescription drugs from a pharmacy, took at least one of the prescriptions and then began to drive home.
Young drove his 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 across the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 83 and collided with the 2004 Ford E350. Young was alone in the truck.
The driver of the bus and 12 passengers perished. Rose Mary Harris of New Braunfels was the only survivor. She was severely injured.
Before the crash occurred, two witnesses in a vehicle behind Young’s pickup recorded a 14-minute video of the truck swerving. According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, the video shows the truck crossing the solid, white edge line 37 times, going into the grass at least five times and crossing the double yellow center line into the opposite lane 19 times.
Munoz said there is no way to link the previous marijuana use to the crash and that the effects of the prescription drugs caused his client’s erratic behavior. A person following doctors’ orders should not be harshly judged for such effects, Munoz said.
He cautioned DuBose against giving up on and “throwing away” his client at such a young age.
On Wednesday, Young testified that he did not know he was intoxicated at the time of the crash. He said he wished he had.
“I didn’t feel like I was intoxicated,” he said. “I don’t know how it didn’t click. I don’t know how I didn’t see it.”
Daniel Kindred, attorney for the 38th judicial district, challenged Young’s assertion that he had come to grips with what he had done and was willing to take full responsibility. Prosecutors said Young was still pointing fingers at his bad upbringing and the doctors who prescribed his medications for reasons why he drove while intoxicated.
But it was Young’s decisions that brought him to the courtroom on Wednesday and Young’s decisions that killed those worshipers, Kindred said as he asked DuBose during closing arguments to sentence Young to 130 years in prison.
Kindred asked for a 10-year sentence for each of the lives Young ended.
“It is harsh? Yes,” Kindred said. “This is a mass killing. He took 13 lives.”
The punishment needed to fit the crime, the district attorney said.
Before announcing her decision, DuBose thanked Harris and the family members and friends of the other victims for their faithfulness and decorum in the court. She recognized that many of them had forgiven Young and said that was a testament to their faith.
Young, no matter his sentence, must not choose to be a victim but instead should continue moving forward with his life and try to do good, the judge said.
“Mr. Young, I do not think you’re a bad person,” DuBose said. “You did, however, make a bad decision on March 29, 2017.”
Young could be eligible for parole after he serves at least half of his sentence.
After the hearing, a litany of the victims’ loved ones approached Young. Many hugged him, some spoke words of encouragement to him and others prayed with him.
One of the first things she did when she learned of the crash was to tune her television to a San Antonio news station where she saw horrific images of the crash, said Peggy Grantham of Tallahassee, Fla. Grantham is the daughter of Addie Schmeltekopf, who died in the wreck.
The images haunt her to this day, Grantham said.
“Every time I see one of those buses, those little church buses, I cry,” she said. “And every time I see one of those little buses, I will cry at the thought of my mother in that coffin.”
But she holds no grudges against Young. Nor do her family members, Grantham said.
They have forgiven him. And she knows her mother in heaven has done the same, Grantham said.
“Whenever you die, my mother is going to be one of the people who greet you at the gates of heaven,” she said. “She’s going to be glad to see you. She’s not angry with you.”