Jurors see, hear video from crash that killed Beaumont officer

Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

BEAUMONT  — Jurors in the intoxication manslaughter trial of Luis Torres heard Officer Gabriel Fells groaning in pain as he called out for his partner, Officer Sheena Yarbrough-Powell, in video presented Tuesday.

Fells was pinned inside the patrol unit with numerous broken ribs and other injuries and unable to reach Yarbrough-Powell, 23, who he later learned died at the scene.

The two officers had gone to the county jail to pick up Yarbrough-Powell’s handcuffs, then return to the police station in Beaumont. While at the jail an officer gifted Yarbrough-Powell with a cat.

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Yarbrough-Powell was excited to receive the cat — she had told others she wanted one — and called her husband and woke him up after 2 a.m. Aug. 9, 2020, to ask him to get some cat food, litter and a box.

Prosecutor Waylon Thompson asked Fells if Yarbrough-Powell was laughing and smiling. The answer was yes.

Not long after the officers left the jail and got back onto the highway, their vehicle was struck by Torre,s who was driving in the opposite direction. Initial reports said Torres was highly intoxicated.

Defense attorney Tom Burbank went through the video with Fells, asking if he could tell which side of the highway other motorists were on as the Beaumont Police vehicle traveled northbound on Cardinal Drive near Texas 347.

Burbank also asked if Yarbrough-Powell was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Fells said no and quickly said he wasn’t wearing one either. Their seatbelts were locked in place behind them in their seats.

The defense attorney asked Fells if there are laws requiring motorists to wear seat belts — “yes, and there’s also laws for people to drive on the right side of the highway, too, sir,” Fells said.

Thompson returned to the podium to ask Fells to explain why some police officers do not wear seat belts.

Fells said sometimes officers are flagged down or have to hop out in an emergency quickly, so not wearing a seat belt makes for a speedier response and keeps the seat belt from getting caught in their gear.

Testimony resumes Wednesday morning in Judge John Stevens’ court.