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What a key piece of evidence will be in the trial of a Port Arthur man accused of killing Beaumont officer in 2020 wreck

Luis Torres is accused of driving drunk and hitting Officer Sheena Yarbrough-Powell head on.

BEAUMONT, Texas — All eyes are on the Jefferson County Court House ahead of a trial that officials said will be a tragic case for everyone involved.

Jury selection in the trial of 20-year-old Port Arthur native Luis Torres will begin Tuesday, June 19, 2022.Torres is charged with intoxication manslaughter in connection with the 2020 death of Beaumont Police Officer Sheena Yarbrough Powell.

Torres is accused of driving drunk and hitting Officer Yarbrough-Powell and her partner, Officer Gabriel Fells, on August 9, 2020 on Cardinal Drive. Torres is said to have hit the unit the two officers were in head on while driving the wrong way on U.S. Highway 69.  

The trial comes after a great deal of legal twists and turns.

Credit: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
Luis Torres

Related: Legal expert says defense will try to convince jury intoxication was not a factor in crash that killed Beaumont officer

Torres was 18 at the time of the deadly crash. He initially pleaded guilty in April to intoxication manslaughter and was set to be sentenced on Monday, May 23, 2022. 

Torres withdrew his guilty plea the day he was set to be sentenced, opting to go to trial instead. The reason for the withdrawal is currently unknown.

Bruce Smith is a Beaumont attorney who believes Torres pleading not guilty really changed things. Smith believes the trial will be complicated, time consuming and very convoluted for the jury.

"Almost all cases involving someone being intoxicated and someone being injured or tragically dying as a result of a wreck, the issue for the jury is 'What was the cause of death,'" Smith said.

Related: Lawsuit alleges Port Arthur restaurant, Groves convenience store sold alcohol to teen prior to wreck that killed Beaumont officer

Smith believes the jury will have an important decision to make, whether Torres being drunk played a sufficient role in the death of Officer Yarbrough Powell.

"Was it the fact that the person was just intoxicated alone,” Smith said. "Was that the cause of death? Or was there what the law refers to as a concurrent cause that contributed to the death?"

Credit: KBMT
Beaumont Police officer Sheena Yarbrough Powell, 23, became the 18th Beaumont officer killed in the line of duty when she died early Sunday morning in a head-on wreck with a wrong-way driver.

If Torres' defense team is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Torres being intoxicated played an insufficient role in the wreck, then he could face a lesser sentence.

For example, Smith believes the defense may argue the accident would've happened regardless of if Torres was drunk or not, and Officer Yarbrough-Powell failed to swerve to avoid the collision.

Related: 18-year-old indicted for intoxication manslaughter in crash that killed Beaumont Police officer

The dashcam video will be a key piece of evidence for the jury.

"If the evidence shows that an intoxicated person is coming down the wrong way, but yet and other cars veered out of the way but the victim’s car did not, then the jury wants to know that and they want to know why,” Smith said.

If Torres is convicted, he could face anywhere from five to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

"We've been hurting since August of 2020 when Sheena left us, but when we have to come face to face with the events of that day it's very difficult, most especially for her family” Beaumont Officer Haley Morrow previously  told 12News. “They miss her every single day, and the Beaumont Police Department is going to stay by their side, keeping her memory alive."

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