SPRINGFIELD, MO. A judge acquitted a Southwest Baptist University student of manslaughter charges in a wreck that killed three fellow students, but convicted him Thursday of a misdemeanor drunken driving charge.
Judge Henry Westbrook Jr. said it was clear Tyler Wasmer was legally drunk at the time of the accident, but he said he believed the crash occurred because Wasmer and his passengers fell asleep.
Westbrook said from the time the vehicle left the road until it hit a tree, there was no attempt to swerve, stop or slow down.
"In seven seconds, there would have been plenty of time for somebody in that vehicle to say, 'Hey bud, get with it. You're asleep,'" Westbrook said.
Relatives of the victims were outraged at the verdict.
"He was placing all the blame on the victims. There was no responsibility for Tyler's driving," said Connie Bacon, whose brother died in the wreck.
Prosecutor Darrell Moore said after the ruling that other defendants might try to claim there was no link between intoxication and their actions. The issue could be addressed by the Missouri Legislature, he said.
"This case does nothing to our vigilance in aggressively prosecuting alcohol-related offenses," Moore said.
Wasmer's attorney, Dee Wampler, said his client was happy but remorseful.
"No one wins in a case like this because young lives have been lost," Wampler said.
Wasmer had been charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Greg Germany, 23; Mary Miller, 20; and Byron Phillips, 27.
Wasmer also was charged with assault for injuring Jamie Roszell, 20, who survived but was blinded in one eye.
Wasmer, 21, faces up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine when he is sentenced Dec. 11. The maximum penalty on the four felony counts was 28 years in prison.
A test given more than three hours after the wreck showed Wasmer's blood alcohol level was .102 .002 above the legal limit at the time. He suffered serious injuries and was in a wheelchair for weeks.
Wasmer was allowed to return to school after a one-semester suspension. He is expected to graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in sports medicine.