UVALDE, Texas — Sentencing proceedings are underway for Jack Young, who admitted he crashed his truck into a church bus and killed 13 people from New Braunfels last spring.
The 13 people who died were all senior citizens. Some of them were in their 80s, but these were not couch potatoes. Their survivors said they were active volunteers who were vibrant, loving givers.
Those left behind talked about the kind of service and joy the world has lost.
Peggy Grantham talked about many of the ways her mother, Addie Schmeltekopf, volunteered, including serving at a local nursing home.
“My mother was 84 years old and she said she was going to paint the fingernails of the old ladies. Some of the old ladies were my age, and she was going to paint the fingernails of the old ladies. She didn’t consider herself an old lady,” Grantham said.
Other loved ones talked of the youngsters who will grow up without the joyous hugs that only grandfathers can give and about family vacations where the sound of laughter will be fainter.
Sharing photographs of previous holiday celebrations, they said there would always be an empty place at the table and in their hearts. Some shared pictures of sporting events and said there will be fewer voices cheering for children on the sidelines.
Grantham said, “We’re always going to miss her. We’re going to deal with it better. But there’s not going to be closure.”
After listening to testimony about Young’s mental health issues and treatments, Grantham said because of her career in the field, she had less sympathy for his actions.
Grantham testified, “Yesterday I was forgiving but after listening to testimony, I feel he deserves a much harsher punishment. I don’t feel he learned his lessons.”
Dustyn Tysdal told Judge Camile DuBose that his mother, Sue Ellen Tysdal, was very close to his entire family because she lived in a home in the backyard of his house for years. Tysdal said his mother lived a life of powerful service, as a nurse, a missionary and a constant volunteer. He called her a beacon whose loss devastated the entire extended family.
Talking about the range of possible punishment, Tysdal said: “God forgives. We can forgive, but the judicial system has to work for all the families and for the ripple effect this has had across the community.”
Tysdal said he had no malice towards Jack Young, but “there must be accountability because this world is losing someone who could do a lot of things for a lot of people.”
Tysdal’s sister, Detra, followed him to the stand. Detra said her mother nursed her back to health during a cancer episode and she credited her mother with helping to save her life. Sharing photographs of family life, Detra struggled to remain composed at times, but also radiated a sense of joy in her mother’s many accomplishments.
Dawn Tysdal-Jean told the judge no one compares to her mother in terms of accomplishments. She added that while her mother would no doubt forgive Young, she would have insisted there is a difference between compassion and being held accountable. Tysdal-Jean said she believed her mother would have hugged Young, but told him that the choices he made have serious consequences.
Ruby Rayborn spoke on behalf of her 84-year old mother, Martha Walker. Rayborn called her mother a cheerleader to all, a sassy lover of the San Antonio Spurs who learned about technology and loved to take selfies. Rayborn said her mother was a talented seamstress who mended the clothing of anyone who asked for her help and who volunteered for a number of causes, including the Food Bank.
Rayborn said the loss of her mother is numbing, even now, more than one year after the violent collision that took her life.
Addressing Young directly, Rayborn said: “There is a reason for you to be here and a truth you need to share with others.”
Billy Rosamond told the judge his 87-year old mother, Mildred Rosamond, was retired but not retiring, as she lived alone, drove her own car and lived a very active life with her church friends. Rosamond said “She never met a stranger and she was sharp as a tack.”
When asked about the effect of the loss on his family, Rosamond said “It’s a never-ending nightmare because she was a rock and the glue that held the family together.”
Rosamond called Young’s actions that day gross negligence that has devastated thousands of people across several communities.
When questioned about what punishment might be appropriate, Rosamond said Young was not doing what a 21-year old man should be doing.
“Life was all about getting high and making one bad decision after another,” Rosamond told the judge, adding a maximum sentence would make a statement that Young’s behavior is unacceptable.
Larry Jones told the judge he is the son of Rose Mary Harris, the one person on the bus who did not succumb to her very serious injuries, but he said the woman that he knew as his mother is gone. He said she perished that day with her church friends and she will never be where she was before the crash.
Jones said he moved from Washington state to become his mother’s primary caregiver, along with his two brothers. He said that even though Young had no intent to harm people, he should pay for his mistakes.
Rose Mary Harris followed her son to the stand. Carrying a portable oxygen tank and relying on a cane to help her with balance, Harris walked to the witness stand slowly after intently following two days of testimony.
Harris said she moved to New Braunfels after working in Detroit for more than thirty years. She said she wanted a small town atmosphere and better weather and she found it in her adopted home.
Harris said soon after she arrived and began attending church, she was befriended by Cristie Moore. She called Moore her best friend and said it was Moore who encouraged her to be involved in many different activities. Harris spoke fondly of a ministry they shared called AWOL, which stands for A Work Of Love.
Of the retreat, Harris said it was Moore who convinced her to not only go on the retreat they attended, but to take the church bus so they could visit during the trip.
Harris said in the moments before the crash, she and her friends were looking at the beautiful hill country landscape and praising God. Harris said she never lost consciousness as the violent crash took her friends from her in an instant. Harris said as bystanders and first responders started arriving on the bus to give aid, she knew many of her friends were lost. As she described the devastation, many in the courtroom wept.
Harris said she couldn’t talk to ask for help because she was spitting out broken teeth, but she said she does remember medical personnel telling her to stay conscious as she was loaded onto a helicopter to be raced to the hospital. Harris said at the hospital, she remembers her clothing being cut away because it was covered in blood. She said most of the blood came from her friends, but her injuries were significant as well, to her shoulder, her pelvis, her toes, her left knee and leg. Harris said she had a torn rotator cuff and scrapes all over her body from the force of the impact.
Harris said she was flat on her back for a long period of time, even as she started the rehabilitation process. Harris told the judge “It took four people to turn me in the bed and it was painful and I have a lot of pride so it was hurtful as well.”
Harris said she has been hospitalized four times, has had three surgeries and two additional procedures, and has had complications from her care.
Relying on faith, Harris said, “For weeks I could do nothing but pray, but God is good.”
On the long-term impact of her injuries, Harris said “I used to walk three miles and now I can’t walk to the corner. I can’t travel.” Harris said she is too unsteady on her feet to walk on any terrain that is not flat and level.
Harris also said she never rests well, and remains fearful of being trapped and alone. She also said seeing a mix of colors will sometimes trigger memories of the chaos on the bus in the moments after the crash.
But Harris went on to praise the involvement of her sons in her life, saying she is grateful for all the comfort they bring.
Speaking directly to Judge DeBose, Harris said “I didn’t come here to live the life I’m living and it is a hard journey, but knowing Jesus is my keeper and my comforter, I understand the law of the land. I charge you to do your job and I will be alright with that.”
Some spectators in the courtroom cheered as Harris finished her remarks, and as she left the stand she apologized to the crowd, saying she knew it was hard for them to listen to the dreadful details about how their loved ones died, but she had to tell the truth.
After some testimony about Young’s behavior while he was out on bond, and his problems abiding by the terms of his release, the defense took over.
Defense attorney Rogelio Munoz called several character witnesses to the stand, who all said that Young was a good person who made bad choices.
Pastor Walter Prescher of Leakey United Methodist Church said he had been meeting with Young on a regular basis since April 2017. Prescher said Young “was truly grieving for what happened that day and experienced brokenness because of it.”
Prescher said Young stood before his congregation as a child of God and he had support from his fellow church members. When challenged by prosecutor Daniel Kindred about accountability, Prescher said: “Making a statement (to the community) is important, but so is mercy and the person here today is not the person who drove that vehicle.”
Dan Kirby told the judge Young had done contract labor on his ranch for years. He called Young a respectful hard worker who always showed up on time. Kirby said Young told him he was saving his money for schooling and dreamed of a career in law. Kirby said while Young made a serious mistake, he told the judge Young is not a career criminal.
Real County Judge W.B. Sansom testified that he had known Young since the boy was 12 or 13 years old. “He’s not a bad boy. He regrets his actions and decisions but he’s not a bad person," Sansom said.
Molly Chisum testified that Young had been a close friend of her son’s for years. Chisum said Young “will never be a free man because he will always live with what he’s done,” adding that she believes he needs mental health treatment and not jail.
When testimony resumes Friday morning, the defense is expected to continue presenting witnesses.
The punishment range available to the judge is extensive, but if he is given the maximum sentence on all counts, it would amount to a lifetime in prison.