A New Braunfels man who killed three members of a Spring Branch family in a drunk driving crash in 2019 was sentenced to 58 years in prison on Oct. 10.
David Michael Estes, 47, was sentenced by a Comal County jury that also found him guilty of three counts of intoxication manslaughter and driving a “deadly weapon.”
Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by a sentence of two to 20 years in prison.
Judge Bruce Boyer of the 22nd District Court presided over the seven-day trial.
He granted prosecutors’ request to stack the sentences to run consecutively, calling the case one of the most gruesome and horrific ones he’s seen or heard of during his 12 years on the bench.
Estes was headed eastbound in a Nissan Altima around 7 p.m. on Nov. 10 when his vehicle crossed the center line in the 8200 block of FM 306 near Purgatory Road and collided, head-on, with a Ford Escape driven by 40-year-old Melissa Edwards.
The collision was so severe that the engine of the Ford Escape was pushed into the firewall and the vehicle immediately caught fire, also killing Edwards’ son, 11-year-old Mountain Valley Middle School student Brendan Edwards, and her 93-year-old grandfather, Rockport resident Walton Cleburne Parker.
Comal County Sheriff deputies Edward Rangel and William Dolezal and several civilian witnesses tried unsuccessfully to break the windows of the victim’s car but were turned back by flames and heat.
A retired Travis County firefighter driving home with her 15-year-old daughter recalled the intense heat as she repeatedly struck the driver’s side window with a window-breaker tool to try and rescue those trapped inside.
“This was the worst day of my life,” she testified.
The retired firefighter also helped Estes out of his vehicle and told the jury he said, “I’ve been drinking, I’m so sorry, I’ve been drinking.”
The man only had minor injuries. His dog was killed. Tests showed Estes had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.19, twice over the legal limit.
The Comal County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that Estes was so intoxicated he had no idea how the crash occurred.
Melissa Edwards’ husband Ken Edwards testified that on the night of the accident his wife and son were driving home from Rockport, where they picked up Parker.
He was a World War II veteran who planned to attend a Veteran’s Day program at Rebecca Creek Elementary the next day. Two of the Edwards’ other sons were enrolled at the school.
The jury also heard from numerous law enforcement witnesses and civilians, including Canyon Lake Fire/EMS first responders Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Kreuger.
During closing arguments on punishment, Assistant District Attorney Jessica Frazier said the Edwards family would have to live with the consequences of Estes’ actions for the rest of their lives.
“Punishment is how we give meaning to their guilty verdict,” she said. “Drinking and driving is what makes our roads dangerous. It’s what made him dangerous. And he didn’t recognize that danger.”
The jury heard from family members, teachers and friends of the victims.
Canyon High School Principal Dustin Davisson, then principal of Mountain Valley Middle School, talked about the crash’s impact on students and staff.
When questioned by a prosecutor about the choices he made on Nov. 10, Estes said the state was making him out to be a “poster child” and questioned why he was singled out as an example.
Jurors learned he had a driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) conviction in Bexar County in 2002.
In a statement, the District Attorney’s office thanked the 911 callers who before the accident tried to alert law enforcement about a reckless driver traveling on FM 306 toward New Braunfels.
Just before the accident, Estes crossed the center line several times and almost collided with two or three other vehicles near the intersection of FM 306 and Ridgewood Bend.
In a 2019 obituary, Ken Edwards described his son Brendan as a “wild spirit that was curious beyond reason, loved to help out, stood up for what he felt was right (and he was always right) and couldn’t be stopped if he wanted to do something.”