Judge: Ex-astronaut charged in 2 traffic deaths can drive

AP News
Posted: Nov 22, 2016 10:57 AM

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — A former astronaut charged in the traffic deaths of two girls can continue driving while awaiting trial, but only with restrictions, a judge ruled.

Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Bradley Almond, in a decision released Friday afternoon, ruled that former space shuttle commander James Halsell Jr. can't consume any alcohol, illegal drugs or medication unless he has a prescription.

Almond also ruled that Halsell, 60, must have a special locking device installed on his car's ignition, and the Huntsville man must undergo twice-weekly testing.

Halsell, who is free on bond, fought to keep his driver's license after being charged with murder and assault in the traffic deaths of two young girls in Tuscaloosa County in June. While he hasn't entered a plea, his attorneys filed a document in a civil lawsuit casting blame on another driving.

Authorities said alcohol was a possible factor in the case, but Halsell refused to be tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs following the crash, leading to a two-year-old suspension of his license.

Halsell appealed and a court postponed the license suspension. Court documents show Halsell was on probation after receiving a DUI ticket in Los Angeles in 2014.

Halsell was arrested after a wreck in June that killed 11-year-old Niomi James and 13-year-old Jayla Parler on a rural highway. The assault charges stemmed from injuries suffered by the girls' father, Pernell James of Brent, who was driving, and his female friend, Shontel Cutts.

Relatives of the children have filed suit over the crash. Halsell's attorneys filed a document in one of the suits saying the driver of the car carrying the girls failed to yield and contributed to the wreck.

A hearing is set for Dec. 2 in which Halsell is scheduled to enter a plea in the criminal cases.