Jury deliberating fate of Port Arthur man found guilty in police officer’s death

Published 4:19 pm Friday, July 22, 2022

BEAUMONT — After approximately an hour of deliberation Friday afternoon, a Jefferson County jury has found a Port Arthur man 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.

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The trial has now entered the punishment phase as of Friday afternoon.

Closing arguments

Defense attorney Tom Burbank said Torres had just turned 18 when the fatal crash occurred. He had graduated high school and was to go to college. And he also got behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence.

Burbank told jurors there are factors they must take into consider when deliberating guilt in the case. He noted when Torres first entered the inside lane at 25 mph, going the wrong direction, another vehicle saw him and got out of the way. And after that vehicle passed, two more vehicles took evasive action, as well, but the vehicle driven by Fells did not. Testimony showed there was no sign of braking by Fells or Torres.

“I have to bring this to your attention,” Burbank said. “I believe there are other factors in reference to the death.”

Police officers, he said, are specially trained in driving, observation, realization and reaction and have more training in driving then civilians.

Burbank also spoke of the kitten Yarbrough-Powell had in the vehicle with her and Fells.

“However you want to put it, there was a little cat in the car. The cat as on Sheena’s back. You see her talking (in video) to Officer Fells,” he said. “In fact they weren’t wearing seat belts.”

A combination of seatbelts and airbags are important safety features to keep a person in their seat in case of a crash, he said.

Yarbrough-Powell was gifted a kitten while at the county jail prior to the crash.

Burbank noted the difficulty at looking at video and photos of the crash scene and Yarbrough-Powell, but there were factors that could have saved her life.

Prosecutor Pat Knauth spoke about the totality of the circumstances of the case and said Burbank was “victim blaming.”

Suggesting Fells should have avoided the wrong-way, intoxicated-driver or that Yarbrough-Powell caused her own death by not wearing a seatbelt is wrong, he said. He likened this thought pattern to telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn her skirt above her knee or telling a burglary victim he needed to have better locks or an aggravated robbery victim he shouldn’t have gone to the mall.

Knauth put a frame of a video on the screen for jurors and spoke of the cat, saying this was likely the last minute of joy Yarbrough-Powell had before her death.

“Even if you believe her not wearing seatbelt helped contribute to it, gosh damn it guys, we’re all imperfect. We’re all driving along, we should be able to look down, get a drink or a phone without a drunk driver — our own personal grim reaper — killing us or killing our daughter, or killing our wife,” Knauth said. “I know Mr. Burbank had a tough job, I do. He had to stand in front of a mountain and tell you there’s no mountain.”