Former Southwest Baptist student acquitted in deaths

Friday, October 18, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Sobs of grief and shock filled the courtroom Thursday as a judge acquitted a former Southwest Baptist University football player of involuntary manslaughter and assault in a wreck that killed three fellow students and permanently injured another.

Greene County Circuit Judge Henry Westbrook Jr. instead convicted Tyler Wasmer of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated.

It was clear the judge anticipated the dismay of relatives -- many of whom have made lengthy drives to Springfield for each court appearance. Westbrook spent nearly 30 minutes outlining the evidence in the case before announcing his verdict.

Westbrook said it was clear Wasmer was legally drunk. But he believed the accident occurred because Wasmer and his passengers fell asleep.

Westbrook said that during the estimated seven seconds from the time the vehicle left the roadway and 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 upset by judge

Relatives of the victims were outraged the judge seemed to suggest the passengers were at fault.

"I never expected to hear anything like what I heard today," said Connie Bacon, whose brother died in the wreck. "He was placing all the blame on the victims. There was no responsibility for Tyler's driving."

Wasmer, now 21, of Independence, appeared stunned by the judge's words. He stared at the judge for several seconds before bowing his head.

Wasmer would have faced a maximum of 28 years in prison if convicted of the initial four felony counts. He now faces up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine when he is sentenced Dec. 11.

Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore said afterward defendants in similar situations might try to claim there was no link between intoxication and their actions.

"If it becomes an issue, it could be fixed by the Legislature," Moore said. "I don't think the public should overreact to this case."

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