It has been 10 1/2 months since a nightmare began for two East Texas families. Some closure came Wednesday afternoon in an Angelina County courtroom as both families listened to a Jasper man plead guilty to the intoxication manslaughter of a 21-year-old Lufkin woman.
Timothy Steven Schroer, 30, accepted a 12-year prison sentence for the May 21, 2006, drunk driving crash that killed Sarah Haley and severely injured her husband Corey as well as Schroer.
In court, the families of Haley and Schroer met for the first time. Tears were shed, hands were held and soft words exchanged as both became acquainted with the plight they share.
"There are no words that we can tell them that can take their pain away," said Schroer's older sister, Tammy Wagstaff, after the hearing. "(Sarah) will be a part of our life forever," added Schroer's mother, Gail Bruvold, who was accompanied by her husband Reynold.
Haley's mother, Carmen Clutter of Silsbee, fondly remembered her daughter - a Jehovah's Witness - as a caring person.
"She had a wonderful sense of humor, but bad timing," said Clutter, smiling.
In her spare time, Sarah collected things, including magazine cut-outs of tacky dresses, her mother said. Sarah worked as seamstress in Lufkin.
Schroer, who has been behind bars since November when an Angelina County grand jury indicted him for the felony offense, has three children, ages 8, 6 and two weeks.
"His three kids are without a daddy because of one foolish mistake," Wagstaff said. "It's a waste."
During interviews, both families stressed a common message: Don't drink and drive.
"Pay attention to family members who drink .... it could be over in a flash," Wagstaff said.
The Haleys were traveling north on U.S. Highway 69, four miles south of Huntington, when Schroer slammed head-on into their vehicle.
A lab analysis, returned months later, measured Schroer's blood alcohol content to be .15 that night - nearly twice the legal limit of .08.
"It's a shame that 17,000 people die every year, and keep dying year after year," said Sarah's father, Randy Clutter. "In this country it could be stopped if they just changed the laws ... to make it completely illegal to drink and drive."
Haley's husband Corey and her younger sister Lillie Clutter also attended the hearing.