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Date: 12-09-2017

Case Style:

Connie Sue Cason v. The State of Texas

Garland Woman Sentenced To 15 Years In Deaths Of Lucas Couple

Case Number: 05-16-01244-CR

Judge: Douglas Lang

Court: Court of Appeals Fifth District of Texas at Dallas

Plaintiff's Attorney: Lisa Smith
John R. Rolater

Defendant's Attorney: name

Description: The indictment in this case alleged in part that on August 25, 2013, appellant recklessly
caused the deaths of two individuals, Dale and Laura Thomas, by striking a motor vehicle
operated by Dale Thomas and occupied by Laura Thomas. Specifically, the indictment stated
appellant acted by (1) “operating a motor vehicle and by failing to maintain a single lane,” (2)
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“operating a motor vehicle and by failing to control the motor vehicle,” (3) “operating a motor
vehicle and by failing to timely apply brakes,” (4) “operating a motor vehicle and failing to stay
awake while operating the motor vehicle,” (5) “operating a motor vehicle and by failing to keep
a proper lookout for another motor vehicle,” (6) “operating a motor vehicle after introduction of
a controlled substance into the body, namely: amphetamine and methamphetamine,” and (7)
“operating a motor vehicle after introduction of a drug into the body, namely: Divalproex, and
Quetiapine, and Acetaminophen, and Hydrocodone, and Clonazepam, and Cyclobenzaprine, and
Cymbalta.”
At trial, Sam Tullock testified that on the morning of August 25, 2013, he was driving to
church with his wife, Kathy. As they drove across the bridge over Lake Lavon, they rounded a
curve and saw “the last part of the impact” of a collision involving a pickup truck and a large
SUV. Tullock stated the pickup truck was in the “appropriate” lane and “pretty near the railing
on the bridge” and the SUV was “in the wrong lane of traffic.” The two vehicles were “still in
motion” and it appeared to him the SUV was “pushing” the truck toward the railing. There was
“smoke or vapor coming up from the vehicles.” Tullock stopped his vehicle and he and Kathy
called 9-1-1, then “went up to the truck to see if we could be of any help to the folks that were
injured.” Tullock stated the driver of the truck was still conscious, but did not speak and was
clearly “in a great deal of pain.” The Tullocks stayed on the scene until paramedics arrived.
Michelle Reynolds testified that on the morning in question, she was driving to the
grocery store. As she crossed the bridge over Lake Lavon, she was traveling behind a red SUV
that was being driven by appellant. Reynolds’s vehicle and the SUV were both traveling at
approximately sixty miles per hour, which is the posted speed limit for that road. While on the
bridge, the SUV “started to veer towards the center line, going into the oncoming traffic.”
Reynolds stated that when the SUV did not “come back,” she “started to get really concerned,
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seeing the oncoming traffic, the truck coming up.” According to Reynolds, after the SUV “got
fully into that lane,” the SUV and the oncoming truck both began moving “over towards the
guardrail,” then collided. She stated the truck was unable to avoid the collision because if it had
veered “the other way,” it would have run into oncoming traffic, i.e., her vehicle. She stated the
SUV did not slow down or attempt to swerve back into the proper lane. Further, Reynolds
testified she saw nothing in the roadway that “would have been the cause for veering to the left”
and did not hear any sound indicating a tire blow-out. Reynolds stopped her vehicle and called 9
1-1, then remained at the scene until the drivers of the vehicles had been transported by
paramedics.
On cross-examination, Reynolds testified she had been driving behind the SUV for
approximately eight miles before the collision occurred and appellant’s driving was “normal”
during that time. Further, Reynolds stated that before reaching the bridge, she saw the SUV
properly navigate a turn and did not notice any “weaving within the lane or anything.”
David Fischer testified that on the date of the incident in question, he was a paramedic
with the Branch Volunteer Fire Department. He arrived at the scene described above at
approximately 9:20 a.m. He observed that a “major accident” had occurred involving two
vehicles, “an SUV sideways in the road and a pickup against the guardrail.” There was a woman
lying on the ground next to the SUV with one leg “propped up inside the driver’s door.” A
bystander stood near the door of the pickup. Fischer approached the SUV first because it was
closest to him. He spoke with the woman on the ground, who was conscious and coherent. He
“did a quick assessment of her leg” and did not see any “apparent life-threatening injuries” as to
that woman. Then, he went to the pickup. Fischer testified he helped extricate a man from the
pickup and get him into an ambulance. The man was “alert to pain” and “moaning and
groaning,” but could not speak. Fischer stated there was also a female passenger in the pickup,
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who was assessed as having no pulse or breathing. Numerous photographs of the scene were
admitted into evidence and published to the jury. Further, several other paramedics testified
respecting (1) the treatment of the parties’ injuries at the scene and (2) the transporting of Dale
Thomas and appellant from the scene by helicopter.
Alvin Shields testified that at the time of the incident in question, he worked as a
paramedic for Patrolling Helicopters Incorporated. He arrived by helicopter at the scene
described above and was directed to an ambulance containing appellant. Shields testified he
completed a written form document at that time based on statements by appellant. As to “how
the crash could have occurred,” Shields wrote on that document that appellant told him she had
fallen asleep.
Shannon Thomas testified he is a senior corporal trooper with the Texas Department of
Public Safety. On the date of the incident in question, he was dispatched to the scene and arrived
at approximately 9:54 a.m. Two medical helicopters were in the process of landing. After Dale
Thomas and appellant were loaded onto the helicopters, Trooper Thomas examined and
photographed the scene. He stated the tires on appellant’s vehicle were “operative and intact,”
appellant’s vehicle was on “the wrong side of the road,” and there was no evidence appellant had
applied the brakes prior to the collision. Trooper Thomas testified it was clear to him the SUV
was “at fault.”
During his investigation of the scene, Trooper Thomas received a telephone call from
Medical Center of Plano (“MCP”), the facility to which Dale Thomas and appellant had been
airlifted. After receiving that call, Trooper Thomas immediately proceeded to MCP. When he
arrived, emergency room personnel told him Dale Thomas had died. Trooper Thomas located
appellant, who was being treated in the emergency room. He stated he attempted to ask appellant
how the crash had occurred and give her an opportunity to make a statement, but she was not
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able to respond due to her medical state. While at MCP, Trooper Thomas spoke with appellant’s
mother, Carolyn Hartsfield. Hartsfield gave him prescription bottles containing medications
prescribed to appellant, which Trooper Thomas photographed. Copies of those photographs were
admitted into evidence and published to the jury.
Collin County Medical Examiner William Rohr testified he has specialized knowledge in
controlled substances such as methamphetamine, a “central nervous system stimulant.”
According to Rohr, (1) at high enough concentrations, methamphetamine can “sort of stimulate
somebody and keep them awake,” and (2) at any level, it can make the user more prone to “poor
judgments” and “risk-taking behavior.” Further, Rohr stated methamphetamine can produce
insomnia, followed by “extreme fatigue” as the drug wears off. Additionally, Rohr testified that
several of the drugs described above for which appellant had prescriptions “have a clinical effect
of sedation.”
Hartsfield testified that at the time of the incident in question, appellant was living with
her. She stated appellant had “some medical issues,” including “a hard time sleeping,” and was
taking multiple medications prescribed by a family doctor and a psychiatrist. Further, Hartsfield
testified in part,
Q. At the time all this happened, you were concerned about your daughter’s methamphetamine use, correct?

A. I was afraid that if she was around the people that did it, she would start doing it.

Q. And she had, correct?

A. Twice.

Q. Twice. That she admitted to you, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. You had seen the signs, correct?

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A. I noticed that she was exhausted when she would come home and go straight to bed.

Additionally, Hartsfield testified that on each of the two nights preceding the collision in
question, appellant had stayed out all night.
Valerie Rahn testified she was working as an emergency room nurse at MCP on the date
in question. When appellant arrived at the emergency room, Rahn gathered basic information
from appellant and completed a written form document. Rahn testified the form completed by
her stated in part as follows: “50-year-old female that says the driver fell asleep, altered level of
consciousness, positive loss of consciousness.” Further, as to medications appellant was on,
Rahn wrote “unknown,” followed by the phrase “whole bunch,” which phrase was enclosed in
quotation marks. Additionally, Rahn stated appellant’s blood sugar level was tested because “low
blood sugar could cause an altered level of consciousness.” Rahn testified the results of that test
did not show a low blood sugar level.
Robert Hardin, an emergency room nurse at MCP, testified he provided treatment to
appellant when she arrived at MCP on the date in question. In connection with that treatment, he
completed various written forms at that time. He testified an entry made by him on one of the
forms stated as follows: “Patient stated that she had taken crystal methamphetamine earlier that
morning.”
Paul Clair testified he is a physician assistant in the MCP emergency room. He stated that
when appellant arrived at MCP on the date in question, she had dilated pupils, which can result
from head trauma or “suggest ingestion of some kind of stimulant.” A CT scan was performed
on appellant and the results showed “[n]o bad head injury.”
Texas Department of Public Safety trooper John Hamilton testified he is certified as a
drug recognition expert. He stated he reviewed appellant’s medical records in this case and they
“indicate stimulant use.” According to Hamilton, the introduction of methamphetamine into a
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person’s body, even if it “does not rise to the level of intoxication,” can affect their ability to
safely operate a motor vehicle. Further, he stated the same is true for several of appellant’s
prescribed medications. Additionally, Hamilton stated that the use of a depressant, stimulant, or
narcotic prior to operating a motor vehicle could be reckless, even if it does not rise to the level
of intoxication.
Dr. John Saad testified he treated appellant at the MCP emergency room on the date in
question. With respect to appellant’s dilated pupils, Saad stated that because the CT scan was
negative and none of appellant’s listed medications would cause such dilation, “that left the
likelihood of some sort of stimulant use.” Also, he stated appellant’s medical records showed no
history of seizures or diabetes. Numerous medical records of appellant were admitted into
evidence. On cross-examination, Saad testified certain disorders that appellant has been
diagnosed with, including lupus and depression, can cause fatigue.
Diane McClurg testified she is MCP’s lab director. She stated a urine test conducted at
MCP on the date in question showed appellant’s urine tested positive for amphetamine. Further,
McClurg stated (1) the metabolizing of methamphetamine produces amphetamine and (2) the
testing instrument “does not distinguish between amphetamine and methamphetamine.”
Dr. Howard Smith testified he is a psychiatrist and has been treating appellant for more
than a decade. At the time of the incident in question, he had prescribed appellant multiple
medications, including Depakote, Seroquel, Klonopin and Cymbalta, several of which can have
“sedating side effects.” He stated he had not advised appellant not to drive, but usually advises
patients “to evaluate how they’re responding to medications before operating a motor vehicle.”
Smith testified appellant had told him she suffered from insomnia. According to Smith, a person
with insomnia can have “daytime somnolence,” which means they can be tired during the day
because they did not get a good night’s sleep. Further, he stated that if a person suffering from
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insomnia used methamphetamine to keep them up all night, it is “a likely outcome” that they
“would be crashing and more tired the next morning.” Additionally, Smith testified that at
appellant’s appointment on September 30, 2013, she told him as follows respecting the incident
in question: (1) “she had fallen asleep at the wheel, or she had pulled over prior to that”;
(2) “[s]he was feeling tired, wasn’t able to sleep, decided to drive anyway, and hit a truck head
on”; and (3) “she had smoked methamphetamine earlier that evening.”
On cross-examination, Smith testified appellant’s diagnoses include “bipolar disorder,
with a history of psychotic features, as well as fibromyalgia, lupus, [and] migraine headaches.”
He stated that during her “times of psychotic episodes or manic episodes,” he would not consider
her a “reliable historian.”
After the State rested its case, appellant presented the testimony of Dr. Jimmie Valentine.
Valentine stated his area of expertise is clinical pharmacology and toxicology. He testified that
the positive result for amphetamine in the urine test described above does not necessarily show
use of methamphetamine. Also, he stated other substances can cause “false positives” for
amphetamine. Further, Valentine testified studies of methamphetamine have shown it can
increase focus and attention and those effects can last eight to twelve hours.
Following closing argument and deliberations, the jury found appellant guilty as to both
counts of manslaughter and assessed punishment as described above. Appellant filed a timely
motion for new trial, which was overruled by operation of law. This appeal timely followed.
II. SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE
A. Standard of Review
In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we consider all evidence in the light most
favorable to the jury’s verdict and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found
the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
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307, 319 (1979); Acosta v. State, 429 S.W.3d 621, 624–25 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014); Brooks v.
State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 895 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). We are required to defer to the factfinder’s
credibility and weight determinations because the factfinder is the sole judge of the witnesses’
credibility and the weight to be given their testimony. Ramseur v. State, No. 05-16-01303-CR,
2017 WL 4930379, at *2 (Tex. App.—Dallas Oct. 31, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated
for publication) (citing Jackson, 443 U.S. at 326). “When the record supports conflicting
inferences, we presume the factfinder resolved the conflicts in favor of the verdict and therefore
defer to that determination.” Holloway v. State, Nos. 05-16-00069-CR & 05-16-00095-CR, 2017
WL 3097628, at *2 (Tex. App.—Dallas Jul. 21, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated for
publication) (citing Clayton v. State, 235 S.W.3d 772, 778 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007)). The
standard of review is the same for direct and circumstantial evidence cases. See, e.g., Isassi v.
State, 330 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). Further, circumstantial evidence is as
probative as direct evidence in establishing the guilt of an actor. Id.; Hooper v. State, 214 S.W.3d
9, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).
B. Applicable Law
A person commits manslaughter if he recklessly causes the death of an individual. TEX.
PENAL CODE ANN. § 19.04 (West 2011); Ashorali v. State, Nos. 05-06-01476-CR, 05-06-01477
CR, & 05-06-01478-CR, 2008 WL 726202, at *7 (Tex. App.—Dallas Mar. 19, 2008, pet. ref’d)
(not designated for publication). Manslaughter is a “result of conduct crime” in which
recklessness must go to the conduct causing the death. Ashorali, 2008 WL 726202, at *7; see
Britain v. State, 412 S.W.3d 518, 520 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013); Schroeder v. State, 123 S.W.3d
398, 400–01 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003). “Recklessly” is defined as follows:
A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard
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constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

PENAL CODE § 6.03(c). The jury’s determination of a culpable mental state is usually grounded
upon inferences drawn from the attendant circumstances and may be inferred from the acts,
words, and conduct of the accused. Ashorali, 2008 WL 726202, at *7; see Robledo v. State, 126
S.W.3d 150, 155 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2003, no pet.).
C. Application of Law to Facts
Appellant contends the evidence is insufficient to support the reckless mental state
element of manslaughter because “[t]here is no evidence to support that [appellant] was aware of
but consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances existed for
her to lose control of her vehicle or the result of losing control of her vehicle and hitting another
would occur.” Specifically, appellant argues in part (1) she “fell asleep or dozed at the wheel”;
(2) “there is nothing to show that [she] knew that she was going to fall asleep and cross into the
oncoming lane of traffic”; (3) “it is very unclear what happened with the appellant when her
SUV veered into the oncoming truck”; and (4) “if the evidence failed to show what actually
caused the accident, it certainly doesn’t show that she was aware that there was a risk and
consciously disregarded it.”
The State responds in part (1) it “did not have to prove that appellant knew she would fall
asleep and cross into oncoming traffic,” but “only had to prove that appellant knew there was a
risk she would do so,” and (2) the jury “could have rationally concluded beyond a reasonable
doubt that appellant was aware of and consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable
risk that she would kill someone by operating a motor vehicle after ingesting drugs and a
controlled substance and failing to stay awake.”
The record shows (1) when questioned by a paramedic at the scene as to the cause of the
collision in question, appellant told the paramedic she had fallen asleep; (2) the form completed
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by Rahn in the emergency room stated in part, “50-year-old female that says the driver fell
asleep”; (3) approximately one month after the collision, appellant told Smith “she had fallen
asleep at the wheel, or she had pulled over prior to that”;“[s]he was feeling tired, wasn’t able to
sleep, decided to drive anyway, and hit a truck head on”; and “she had smoked
methamphetamine earlier that evening”; (4) Rohr stated methamphetamine can produce
insomnia, followed by “extreme fatigue” as the drug wears off; (5) Hartsfield testified appellant
had admitted to methamphetamine use on two prior occasions and had stayed out all night on
each of the two nights preceding the collision; and (6) when Hartsfield was asked whether she
had “seen the signs” that appellant was using methamphetamine, she answered, “I noticed that
she was exhausted when she would come home and go straight to bed.” On this record, we
conclude the evidence is sufficient to support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant,
as alleged in the indictment, recklessly caused the deaths of two individuals by “operating a
motor vehicle and failing to stay awake while operating the motor vehicle.” See PENAL CODE §§
19.04, 6.03(c); Ashorali, 2008 WL 726202, at *7 (jury’s determination of culpable mental state
may be inferred from acts, words, and conduct of accused); see also Porter v. State, 969 S.W.2d
60, 63–64 (Tex. App.—Austin 1998, pet. ref’d) (concluding evidence was sufficient to support
conviction for manslaughter where defendant who drove into oncoming traffic during early
morning hours had used methamphetamine during preceding night and had acknowledged prior
to collision that he was “very much fatigued” and should not be driving).
We decide appellant’s issue against her.

Outcome: We decide against appellant on her sole issue. The trial court’s judgment is affirmed.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

Comments:



 
 
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