By LouAnna Campbell, Tyler Paper
A Smith County jury deliberated for about 5 1/2 hours and returned a unanimous decision in a sentencing hearing for a Lindale woman who killed two people on Toll 49.
Jessica Lauren Vass, 36, received a probated sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 after pleading guilty to intoxication manslaughter in the 2017 deaths of Gary McCrary, 62, of Flint, and Annette Burkhart, 56, of Garland, who were working to change a flat tire on Toll 49, north of Texas Highway 64, in Smith County.
As a condition of her probation, Vass will serve 120 days in the Smith County Jail and the rest of her sentence with the Smith County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. She will have to pay the fine.
The jury was able to consider the deferred adjudication because Vass had no prior felony convictions.
“It was what we asked for,” said Vass’ defense attorney Brett Harrison. “We’re very happy for Jessica and equally happy that the victims’ family members were able to express closure and peace.”
Vass was emotional when 241st District Court Judge Jack Skeen announced her sentence Thursday.
Members of the McCrary and Burkhart families talked with Vass, cried with her and hugged her after court adjourned.
During victim impact statements, McCrary’s stepdaughters expressed their forgiveness and even asked Skeen if it was possible to get up and give Vass a hug.
They both asked Vass to continue telling her story in order to honor McCrary’s memory.
Burkhart’s daughter Jennifer Le read a statement she called a tribute to her mother. It focused on the things her mother is missing.
Le told Vass she wants to get to know her and her family because she is a part of her life now.
“The forgiveness was really something to see,” Harrison said. “This was a tragic event. Not everyone is happy, but I hope this gives them a tiny bit of relief.”
Burkhart’s son Matthew Burkhart told Vass he is not ready to forgive her.
“I feel lost and broken,” he said. “I’m distant to my wife and daughter. I want my mom back. I want to talk to her. I want my daughter to hear her laugh. She can’t do that and that is why I can’t forgive you right now.”
During closing statements, Smith County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Bullock told jurors they are voices of the community.
“Whatever sentence you render the system did what it was supposed to do,” Bullock said. “What we can ask of you is that you remember those victims, remember what happened to them. Remember their family members and who was left behind.”
Vass pleaded guilty Monday to the charges and elected to have a jury decide on her punishment. Testimony began Tuesday and ended Wednesday.
Vass faced up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree felony charges.