NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A Nacogdoches County jury has found the Garrison man who was accused of negligent homicide in connection to an August 2012 wreck involving a log truck and a car that resulted in the death of a 56-year-old Catarino Perez not guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
The jury took less than 30 minutes to reach its verdict.
"It shouldn't have ever gotten to this," Bryant said.
"Oh, he was ecstatic. Obviously he was nervous. These were very serious charges against him," said Winfred Simmons, Defense Attorney.
"DPS did everything they should have," said prosecutor Andrew Jones. "We got all the evidence that we needed. This was about whether Mr. Bryant's actions amounted to criminal acts. The jury believed they did not."
Jones said it was a tragic accident that resulted in the loss of a life.
"The jury recognized that fact, but they also recognized Mr. Bryant shouldn't be convicted of a felony for the wreck," Jones said. "That was their decision, and I respect it."
"I knew I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm moving on," Bryant said.
Toward the end of Wednesday's testimony, the defense called the defendant, Jerome Charez Bryant, to the stand. Bryant, 40, appeared in Judge Edwin Klein's 420th Judicial District Court Wednesday morning. He is on trial for a state-jail felony criminally negligent homicide charge.
According to Texas Department of Public Safety officials, Bryant was driving a Mack log truck on FM 2782 when he pulled into the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 59 and cut right in front of Perez's car. The Diboll man was killed instantly.
When Bryant took the stand, he started by describing what happened on the day of the fatal accident. He said he did his normal pre-shift inspection and noticed that there were tire issues. Bryant said he reported the issues to the owner of the truck.
Bryant said he is not responsible for maintaining the log truck. He also said he doesn't load the wood on to the truck.
"I pulled up to the stop sign," Bryant said. "There was a lot of traffic on 59."
Later, he described turning from the farm-to-market road to Highway 59.
"It's not a quick turn," Bryant testified. "If you have a load, the truck jumps and takes a while to turn."
Defense attorney Winfred Simmons then asked to show a demonstrative video. Bryant agreed that the video would help the jury to understand what it was like for a loaded truck to make the turn on the day of the accident.
"As he got closer to me, I asked myself, 'What is he doing?'" Bryant said. "I just braced myself."
Bryant said Perez came straight into his lane and hit him.
"My truck was all the way on [Highway] 59, Bryant said. "The trailer was halfway on 59."
During his testimony, Bryant said he made the decision to turn because Perez was in the outside lane and about a half mile behind, adding that he has made that turn at the same time daily for some time.
"I saw him drive right into me," Bryant said.
Bryant testified that he believes there wasn't anything he could have done differently that day.
Jones asked Bryant faulty tires could have affected his ability to stop.
"No, not at all," Bryant said. "There are three ways to stop a truck."
Earlier Wednesday, the defense called a witness who has had training securing different loads.
"If you're not at a controllable speed and try to turn fast, the truck will shut off, or the truck will roll over," the witness said.
The defense also called Derrick Fields to the stand. Fields, who has been a truck driver for 23 years, is also one of Bryant's friends. He said he's familiar with the farm-to-market road Bryant turned off of right before the accident.
"It's a curvy road," Fields said. "If you're not careful and controlling your speed, the load will push you over."
Perez' family entered the courtroom as the jury prepared to deliberate Bryant's fate.
During his closing argument, Simmons told the jury that if Bryant was negligent, he wouldn't have just been risking others' lives; he would have been risking his own as well. He said that only two of the log truck's 10 brakes were out of adjustment, so it was able to be stopped.
"There just isn't enough here," Simmons said.
Jones countered by saying that Bryant knew of all the problems, but he drove any way. He told the jurors to find Bryant guilty because he is, adding that a family lost a husband and a father because of Bryant's negligence.
"He ignored all these risks," Jones said.