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Police: Ex-astronaut tried to take vehicle after fatal crash

James Halsell Jr. (courtesy: NASA)
James Halsell Jr. (courtesy: NASA)(KNOE)
Published: Jun. 7, 2016 at 10:40 AM CDT
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Update: June 8, 2016 at 2pm

Court documents show a former astronaut charged with reckless murder tried to take the vehicle of a passer-by after a deadly crash in rural Alabama.

The claim is included in a state trooper's description of the wreck that led to the arrest of five-time space shuttle flier James Halsell Jr. of Huntsville.

The officer wrote that Halsell appeared extremely intoxicated after a crash that killed two girls early Monday.

The officer's statement says a motorist who stopped to offer aid told officers the one-time astronaut tried to take his pickup truck. The description doesn't say what happened next, but Halsell was still on the scene when officers arrived.

The 59-year-old Halsell is free on $150,000 bond. A woman who answered the phone Wednesday at his home number declined comment. Court records don't list an attorney.

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Update: June 7, 2016 at 6:30pm

Traffic backed up for miles and two cars loaded on tow trucks was the scene after 59-year-old James Halsell, a former astronaut and West Monroe native's Chrysler 300 hit a Ford Fiesta killing two young girls.

"Extremely shocked because I highly respected the family and his parents especially cause I interacted with them a lot," says Pattond McHenry who knows the family.

The wreck happened around three Monday morning on Highway 82 near Tuscaloosa.

McHenry lives in Monroe and knew Halsell's parents back in the 70s.

"I found him to be a very likeable young man, very intelligent sometimes he could be very reserved," says McHenry.

Alabama State Troopers say alcohol and speed may have been factors in the crash.

The retired space shuttle pilot who made five missions was driving alone when the accident happened. In the other car, 11-year-old Niomi James and 13-year-old Jayla Parler... who were not wearing seat belts were thrown from the vehicle and died. Two other passengers in that car were also injured.

"Very heartbroken and shocked when i heard the news on it, I thought it was very tragic incident and it's going to be affecting his family for a very long time," says McHenry.

Halsell Drive in West Monroe is named after the astronaut and his family and neighbors tell me they were shocked by Tuesday's news.

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Update: June 7, 2016 at 11am

A former astronaut is free on bond after being charged with murder in a wreck that killed two girls in Alabama.

A spokesman for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office, Lt. Andy Norris, says 59-year-old James Halsell Jr. of Huntsville is free on $150,000 bond.

Norris says Halsell was released about 6:30 p.m. Monday, nearly 16 hours after the crash that killed 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler of Brent earlier that day.

State troopers say the children died in a two-car crash, and a preliminary investigation indicates alcohol and speed may have been factors.

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Former astronaut James Halsell Jr., originally from West Monroe, is charged with murder after a wreck that killed two girls in Alabama.

State troopers say 59-year-old James Halsell Jr. of Huntsville was arrested after a crash that killed 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler of Brent early Monday.

Troopers say a car driven by Halsell collided with a Ford Fiesta in which the girls were passengers. Both victims were ejected from the vehicle and died. Two others were injured.

Troopers say a preliminary investigation indicates alcohol and speed may have been factors.

An online biography by NASA says Halsell went to work in the aerospace industry in 2006 after a career that included five shuttle flights starting in July 1994.

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Alabama Law Enforcement Agency News Release:

A two-vehicle crash today, June 6, claimed two lives and injured two others. Niomi Deona James, 11, and Jayla Latrice Parler, 13, both of Brent, were killed when the 2015 Ford Fiesta in which they were passengers was struck by a 2015 Chrysler 300 driven by James Halsell Jr., 59, of Huntsville. James and Parler who were not using seat belts were ejected. James was pronounced dead at the scene. Parler was transported to DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, where she was pronounced dead. The driver of the Ford, Pernell Deon James, 37, and another passenger, Shontel Latriva Cutts, 25, both of Brent, were also transported to DCH Regional Medical Center for treatment of their injuries. Halsell was arrested and charged with Murder as the preliminary investigation indicates that alcohol and speed may have been factors in the crash. The crash occurred at 2:50 a.m. on U.S. 82 near the 65 mile marker, 10 miles east of Tuscaloosa. Nothing further is available as Alabama State Troopers continue to investigate.