Camaro driver faces manslaughter charges in deadly Lumberton crash
UPDATE: Dawn Sterling, the mother of sisters Connely Renee Burns and Courtney Ray Sterling — who died in a Lumberton auto accident Feb. 3 — was severely injured in the crash but survived. The Lumberton Independent School District posted an update on her condition on its Facebook page Thursday, Feb. 13.
The post says, "Dawn had surgery on Monday to repair her diaphragm. The doctors felt this would speed her recovery and help get her into a private room sooner. She also had fluid buildup in both lungs, and the doctors re-inserted the chest tube to relieve those issues. To assist in her recovery, they have put her on a ventilator so she could get more oxygen to the areas that were affected by the blunt trauma. Her husband, Michael, says the surgery and the oxygen is allowing her to finally get some rest. Funeral services are still pending, but Michael will let us know as soon as they make a decision. Please continue to pray for the family and Dawn’s recovery."
Funeral arrangements for Connely Renee Burns and Courtney Ray Sterling will be decided after Dawn Sterling's release from hospital, the Broussard's Mortuary website states. Call Broussard's Silsbee location at (409) 386-1000 for more information.
A Kirbyville woman is being charged with three counts of manslaughter after an auto accident Monday night, Feb. 3, 2014, that caused the death of two Lumberton sisters, one of them pregnant, and left their mother in critical condition.
According to Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins, around 8 p.m. Monday evening, Lumberton Police Department officers were working a minor crash on Highway 96 at West Walton Road when they received a radio call from a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper in Jasper County who had clocked a southbound red Camaro traveling at 157 mph.
The Lumberton police officers clocked the same vehicle passing the minor accident at 121 mph, Sullins said. The officers pursued the vehicle to the West Chance Road cutoff but could no longer see the Camaro, he said.
“They looked up and saw dust. … They radioed ahead to notify Beaumont Police Department about the vehicle,” Sullins said.
But 40-year-old Crystal Lummus Boyett, who police say was driving the Camaro, didn’t make it to Beaumont.
On 96 in Lumberton near the “Y” where 96 and 69 come together, Boyett struck the rear end of a southbound 2011 Nissan Murano driven by Lumberton High School freshman Courtney Ray Sterling, Chief Sullins told The Examiner.
“The victims were probably (traveling) 60-65 mph,” Sullins said. “They were in the outside lane, and this Camaro struck them from behind. We shot it with a range finder, and from the point of impact to the point of final rest was 194 yards. That’s almost 600 feet.”
Sullins said he believes from the findings that Boyett was traveling in excess of 100 mph when she hit Sterling.
Twenty-year-old Connely Rene Burns, who police say was in her third trimester of pregnancy, was pronounced dead at the scene. She was a back-seat passenger, Sullins said. Her 15-year-old sister, driver Courtney Ray Sterling, was transported to the hospital, where she died from her injuries on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Connely was due to give birth in April, but because her pregnancy was ahead of schedule, she and her husband, Tim, expected their baby boy, whom they named Tyson, to be born early in March, said Brooke Boudreaux, a friend of Connely.
“She was selfless,” Boudreaux said of Connely. “She cared about everyone more than herself. Every time I got on the road, she said, ‘Please be careful, please be careful. I don’t want to lose you.’”
But it was Boudreaux’s friend of more than five years and former classmate, Connely, who was tragically killed.
The girls’ mother, Dawn Sterling, 46, of Lumberton, was a front-seat passenger — her daughter, Courtney, was driving with a learner’s permit. Dawn Sterling and was taken to Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth where she remains in critical condition.
“These girls … one of them just graduated from high school in the last year or two, and the other is a freshman in high school,” Sullins added, “It’s horrible.”
Boyett, 40, was also transported to the hospital but was released. After a warrant was issued, she was arrested Wednesday, Feb. 5, at her parents’ house in Kirbyville and remains in the Hardin County Jail on three bonds totaling $1.5 million, Sullins said.
Police found a bottle of prescription Xanax in Boyett’s Camaro, Sullins said. Xanax, used to treat anxiety by producing a calming effect, can cause dizziness or drowsiness, according to WebMD. “Do not drive, use machinery, or do any activity that requires alertness until you are sure you can perform such activities safely,” the medical website states. It is not known whether Boyett had taken Xanax, but her blood was drawn for testing. Sullins expects to receive results back from that test in three to four months from the Texas DPS crime lab.
Sullins said Lumberton Police Department, through a court order, also received permission to remove the data recorder from Boyett’s vehicle.
“We’re hoping it contains some information in it as far as speeds of the vehicle and whatnot,” Sullins said, adding that it would take a few weeks to extract the information.
Boyett has a 1995 conviction of DWI out of Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Sullins said.
Boyett faces three manslaughter charges — one for each of the sisters and one for Connely Burns’ unborn child, a charge made possible because the pregnancy had reached the third trimester. Sullins said the accident is still under investigation.
Dawn Sterling is expected to recover from her injuries, said Lumberton ISD Public Relations Director Anna Miller, a co-worker of Sterling, who works in payroll at Lumberton ISD.
“She is in stable condition in ICU with multiple injuries,” Miller said.
“All of her ribs are broken, her pelvis is fractured, she’s in a neck brace and has cracked vertebrae; they think some of her disks may be messed up,” Boudreaux added.
Recovery from the loss of her daughters, however, will most likely take much longer than Dawn Sterling’s physical recovery.
“They woke her up Friday (Feb. 7), so she knows now. She’s trying to deal with it,” Boudreaux said. “She doesn’t want anyone crying around her. She’s not ready for that.”
“Her life are those girls,” Miller said. “It’s very tragic.”
Miller said the loss of the sisters is being felt by both the students and faculty of Lumberton High School.
“Connely was a graduate in 2012 and Courtney is a freshman on our campus that was very involved in band and color guard,” Miller said. “As you can imagine, it is really affecting the kids on our campus.”
Grief support is available for students and faculty, Miller said.
“We have our counselors that are on campus and also we are a member of the Big Thicket Co-op for Special Education services, and they have also sent over a counselor to provide grief counseling,” she said.
Lumberton High School students and a community group in Lumberton have organized a benefit, “Friends of the Sterling family.” The event is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 23, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on the high school campus. Planned activities include a chili cook-off, live music, an auction at 2 p.m., a car show, and a bake sale. Proceeds will go to the Sterling family to help with medical bills and funeral expenses, Miller said. An account has also been set up for donations at Neches Federal Credit Union, 299 Country Lane Drive in Lumberton, under “Benefit of Sterling family.” All proceeds will be deposited in the account, Miller said.
Donations can also be made by visiting youcaring.com and searching Dawn Sterling. The goal is to raise $10,000 for the Sterling family, said Boudreaux, who remarked that the effort had raised more than $3,300 thus far.
Lizzie Cross, a friend of Connely, is spearheading an effort to raise money for the family by selling T-shirts for $15 each in memory of the sisters and to raise money for medical expenses and funeral costs.
“Within just a few hours, there were already 800 orders sold community wide,” Miller said.
For more information on how to purchase a T-shirt, call (409) 755-4321.
“There is a huge effort, and people are coming out from all over to support the family because this is such a tragedy that has literally touched everyone,” Miller said.
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.