BEAUMONT - A Kirbyville man originally charged with manslaughter in a 2012 wreck that killed a Lumberton man has been found guilty of criminally negligent homicide by a Jefferson County jury.
After about two and a half hours of deliberation beginning Wednesday afternoon and ending Thursday morning the jury found Justin Lawson, 26, not guilty of second degree manslaughter and guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Mitchell Glen Downs in December of 2012.
Many members of Downs' family left the courtroom in tears following the unanimous verdict.
Lawson was driving when he hit Downs who was walking along northbound Eastex Freeway near Park North Drive.
Lawson, who was 22 at the time, fled the scene of the crash and was later arrested on manslaughter charges.
He now faces between six months and two years of jail time.
Had Lawson been found guilty of the manslaughter charge he could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
Downs' grandmother, Debra Fisher was one of many family members here that are still reeling after he was killed.
"It's been excruciating. He was my first grandson, my first grandchild. And he was like my little partner in crime, so to speak. He was a delightful kid, he could get on your last nerve but I mean, he's never going to be at another Thanksgiving," Fisher said.
Downs was legally blind and unable to drive, which is why he made the trek on foot from Beaumont to Lumberton the night he died.
Prosecutors say Lawson fled the scene and was arrested the next day, so police couldn't charge him for being intoxicated.
Kathy Bell-Schexnaider with Mothers Against Drunk Driving says these types of tragedies occur far too often.
"We've had a lot of pedestrian deaths recently and drivers in general need to be aware. That is their responsibility, to keep a lookout, and when you're under the influence and dealing with cell phones, that's not legal,” Bell-Schexnaider said.
These tragedies can have a devastating effect on those who lost their loved ones.
"And thanksgivings are the hardest because every time my door opens, I look for him and he's never going to be back through that door,” Fisher said.
Lawson's sentencing will be pushed back to present video evidence of Lawson's DWI arrest from three weeks ago in Jasper County.
The jury will return to the courtroom tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.
(© 2017 KBMT)