Family, friends of Beaumont officer killed in DWI crash give emotional testimonies following guilty verdict

Published 7:25 pm Friday, July 22, 2022

A Jefferson County jury is in recess until 10:30 a.m. Monday as jurors prepare to deliberate the punishment of a Port Arthur man found guilty of driving drunk and hitting a police unit, subsequently killing a Beaumont police officer.

Luis Torres, 20, was found guilty Friday of intoxication manslaughter in the death of Beaumont Police Officer Sheena Yarbrough-Powell in Judge John Stevens’ court.

Family members and fellow police officers described Yarbrough-Powell as a feisty and tenacious person who was illuminating, giving and caring.

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Her death has left a lasting impression on those who knew her, according to testimony heard Friday afternoon through victim-impact statements.

Her husband, Tyler Powell, told jurors of how close he and Yarbrough-Powell were and of hearing the news his wife had been killed by a drunken driver.

On the night of the 2020 crash, Yarbrough-Powell had called from work to tell him of a cat she was given and asked him to get food and litter for the new pet. So he bought the items and laid down, expecting her to wake him. Instead, there were visitors at the door. The first thing he saw when peeking out was one of her fellow officers and his first thought was she was doing something goofy.

He opened the door to see a bunch of people there, including the police chief, which he thought was weird, he said. Then they broke the news and he began to shake profusely. He learned of the drunken driver who hit the police car and was asked to call and notify his family — “and that was the worst phone call of my life.”

Powell described telling his mother-in-law, Sheila Yarbrough.

“I can still hear those screams. All she was doing was screaming. I still hear those screams,” Powell said.

When Sheila Yarbrough handed the phone to Mark Yarbough, Sheena’s father, he was able to relay to him what happened so they, in turn, could tell other family members.

Sheena, she said, was his world.

“She was my purpose, my reason to do anything in life,” Powell said.  “I have no drive. I have purpose alone. I lost everything.”

Sleep is difficult.

“I try to sleep at night. When I go to sleep I just beg God not to let me wake up and when I wake up the next morning, I just hate my life. I frankly don’t want to live in a world that person is not in,” he said.

Jurors also heard tearful statements from Yarbrough-Powell’s sisters and parents, as well as fellow officers.

Defense attorney Tom Burnak called Dr. Edward Brown Gripon, a forensic psychiatrist, to the stand to discuss Torres’ mental state.

Gripon visited via Zoom with Torres twice — the first time when he had been in jail for approximately 13 months and the second time when he had been in jail for approximately 20 months. Torres had been identified by mental health professionals at the jail as having some symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress and is on medication.

Burbank also called Stephanie Bass, an employee at Bob Hope Charter School who knew Torres in high school. She called him a leader and a person whom everyone loved.

“He was a special kid and he was going places,” Bass said.

While in high school, Torres worked and at one time had two jobs along with attending school and receiving dual college credits. He was awarded a scholarship from Motiva — one of only five such scholarships the company awards, she said.

Torres was going to attend college and was very ambitious and outgoing.

Bass said Torres didn’t know what he wanted to do as far as a major but he wanted to do something big.

Trial

After approximately an hour of deliberation Friday afternoon, a Jefferson County jury found Torres guilty of intoxication manslaughter following a wreck that killed a Beaumont police officer.

Luis Torres was 20 on Aug. 9 2020, when he drove the wrong way on Cardinal Drive near Texas 347, hitting a Beaumont Police Department patrol unit head-on.

The wreck killed 23-year-old officer Sheena Yarbrough-Powell and injured 28-year-old officer Gabriel Fells.