MARSHALL, Texas - The driver of a fatal wreck that killed two Marshall High School students in January was arrested Wednesday for two counts of criminal negligent homicide.
The driver, 18-year-old LaTavion Jackson, of Marshall, was arrested following an indictment for which he was charged with the criminal negligent homicide of passengers — 16-year-old Ny’Jahl Armstrong and 17-year-old Derrick Bennett. The two were both juniors at MHS and former athletes.
“It was investigated by the DPS Texas Highway Patrol,” Harrison County District Attorney Reid McCain said of the case.
The wreck occurred on Jan. 12, around 1 a.m., about two miles outside of Marshall on State Highway 43 South.
A crash report provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, who investigated the scene, indicated that Jackson was driving an unsafe speed — at 109 miles per hour — at the time of the crash.
Additionally, “DPS crime lab results indicate the driver tested positive for cannabis,” the crash report notes.
According to the indictment, which was initially sealed, Jackson allegedly committed criminal negligent homicide on Jan. 12 by failing to maintain control over the vehicle that he was operating.
“LaTavion Jackson was, according to the indictment, driving in a negligent behavior and that negligent behavior led to him leaving the roadway on 43 South just north of I-20, striking a tree; and two of the occupants were killed as a result of that crash,” said McCain.
Both counts in the indictment allege that Jackson failed to keep proper lookout while operating the vehicle; failed to timely apply the brakes of the vehicle in order to avoid a collision with a tree; operated the vehicle in an unsafe manner for the then-existing road conditions; drove the vehicle into a tree; disregarded a traffic control device; failed to stop the vehicle as required by a traffic control device; and ingested marijuana, “which acts and omissions and singularly or in combinations thereof, resulted in the defendant’s motor vehicle striking the tree.”
DPS officials reported that the car was traveling north on State Highway 43 in the left inside lane at an unsafe speed, causing it to hydroplane. The car spun counter clockwise, crossing over both lanes of State Highway 43 southbound.
The crash report goes on to say that the car entered the west ditch, crossed over a private drive and vaulted. The car then struck a tree with its back right, coming to rest upright, facing south in the west ditch.
Jackson, the driver, was transported to Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport in serious condition.
Bennett, of Marshall, was transported to Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center Marshall in critical condition, where he later died, DPS spokeswoman Sgt. Jean Dark, reported at the time.
Fellow passenger, Armstrong, was pronounced dead at the scene by Justice of the Peace Clarice Watkins.
A fourth occupant, Marshall High School sophomore Jerrold Maze, was transported to Christus Good Shepherd Marshall in stable condition.
Marshall Fire Chief Reggie Cooper noted before that the Jaws of Life equipment was used to extract the four students who were trapped inside the vehicle.
Court records show that Jackson’s bonds were initially set at $25,000 on each count. It was reduced to $10,000 for both counts, by request of Jackson’s attorney, Coke Solomon. The order with conditions was signed for approval by 71st Judicial District Judge Brad Morin and the DA, McCain.
“He’s a student; he works locally, so we believe that’s a bond that will assure that he comes back to court to face the charges,” the DA said.
“Anytime there is a fatality, DPS calls out their fatality reconstructive team and they do a thorough investigation,” the DA said.
“The reason this case didn’t go to the grand jury sooner is because we were waiting on some lab work to come back that just recently came back,” he added.
McCain said any time there’s a crash like this, prosecutors consider two charges — one is intoxication manslaughter, which is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison; the other is criminal negligent homicide, which is punishable by 180 days to 2 years in the state jail, on each count.
“The lab report we were waiting on was the deciding factor on what charge we were going to go forward on,” the DA said.
The DA said it’s a tragic situation on all accounts.
“It’s very tragic, you’ve got a young man facing some serious charges in the early phases of his life and it’s also tragic when two lost their lives too soon,” said McCain.
“These cases are tough because it’s hard to say who wins, but there has to be accountability,” he continued. “We have two victims who lost their lives at a very early age. The grand jury decided we need to move forward.
“Three lives are forever altered and the families of these three individuals are very affected,” he said.