Driver In Crash That Killed Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Made A Habit Of Texting And Driving
SEMINOLE COUNTY, Oklahoma - A man distracted by his phone when he hit and killed state trooper Nicholas Dees said he made a habit of texting and driving.
During a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Steven Clark admitted he also read books, played games on his phone, changed his clothes and even watched movies while behind the wheel.
The hearing began with Clark tearfully taking the stand. He told everyone in the courtroom he thought he understood the pain he caused but it wasn't until he read the victim's impact statements that he realized that wasn't possible.
Clark said he was an overconfident driver, despite others telling him he was reckless and wild and he had been texting and driving since he got his driver’s license.
He said he didn’t remember the exact moment of the accident but, “It all comes back to me. I am responsible.”
On the night of the crash during his two and a half hour trip from Ft. Smith, investigators say Clark received 73 texts and sent 69, in addition to 49 data transmissions. All with his young daughter in the back seat.
Clark was sending a text when he struck Dees with his car and killed him.
But on Tuesday, Clark said he has grown while in jail and his life has been changed for the better.
Clark has spent the last 10 months in jail because he can’t afford to pay the bond.
“Taking a life, an innocent one is devastating,” Clark said. “I tried to put myself in their (Dee’s family) shoes … but after reading the impact statements I didn’t have a clue.”
In a letter to prosecutors, Clark said he was hoping to be put in a position where he could make a difference and prevent this from happening again. He asked for a life sentence on probation and “fines as high as they go” as well as community service.
Clark also said he tried to make contact with Dee’s family as long as he has been in jail.
“If you want any correspondence, I’m completely at your disposal,” he told them.
“I’m so sorry, my heart has been shattered by your loss and the fact that it was at my hands hurts me that much more,” Clark said in court.
Clark prepared a statement, but before he could read it he put it down and talked about the “dozen” inmates that Dees arrested while he was in jail. He said every one respected him.
“He’s an inspiration and I’m so sorry,” he said.
Prosecutors argue Dee’s death wasn’t the result of a momentarily lapse of judgment, but a reckless disregard for other people's lives. Dee’s wife Brandi asked the court for the maximum sentence.
“I’ve had to explain to a crying two year old why she can’t see her dad again,” she read in a prepared impact statement. “My children suffer separation anxiety and get physically sick when they have to be away from their mother for fear that I may not return.”
“Nicholas was such an amazing man and I am so proud to be his mother and anything less than life is unacceptable to me,” Dee’s mother Shelly Russell said. "I'm a Christian, I'm working hard to forgive him, but right now, I can't.”
Clark’s defense attorney however said Clark was doing what almost everyone with a cell phone has done.
“We’ve all been distracted drivers, Thank God we didn’t all kill people,” Clark's attorney said.
They are asking Clark serve out the rest of the year in county jail and then start working to be a voice for change.
The judge will sentence Clark on December 17.