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Emotional trial ends with 5-year sentence

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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Two lives, two families, were changed forever after a fatal wreck on Feb. 13, 2015, near Boyd.

Last week, those families were in the Wise County courthouse for the intoxication manslaughter trial of the driver of the vehicle, 24-year-old Nathen Wayne Dawson of Chico.

The wreck happened around 11:30 p.m. after Dawson and 17-year-old Christopher Bragg of Lake Dallas left a party where both had been drinking.

Sarah Blair testified in last week’s trial in the 271st District Court in Decatur that she was at the party and saw the two men bragging about their cars. She said she saw Bragg standing near the passenger side and Dawson next to the driver’s side. As she went to go back into the house, she heard other people shouting, “No, don’t do that” as Dawson drove off with Bragg in the passenger seat.

The wreck happened just moments later at a 90-degree curve on County Road 4590 just off Texas 114 west of Boyd.

The jury also heard testimony from the property owner who heard the crash and came outside to find Bragg had been ejected and Dawson in the driver’s seat.

Bragg was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Dawson’s attorneys – Ray Napolitan, David Singleton and Paul Belew – argued that since no one was wearing a seat belt, Bragg could have been driving and Dawson was thrown into the driver’s seat.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham called four law enforcement officers to the stand to testify about what they saw at the crash scene.

Napolitan asked several of the witnesses about Bragg’s body being found on the ground near the driver’s side after the car came to a stop after it had rolled several times, possibly indicating Bragg had been driving.

Investigating DPS Trooper Patrick Garcia said evidence showed Dawson was driving.

“In a spin like that, you expect the passenger to go out the passenger side and the driver to go out the driver’s side. That’s how physics works,” he testified.

Dawson was flown from the scene to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth with serious injuries.

Because investigators noticed the smell of alcohol at the scene, a DPS officer was sent to the hospital to obtain a blood sample from Dawson.

DPS Trooper Patrick Alonzo testified that he went to the hospital and found Dawson unconscious. Because he could smell alcohol, Alonzo obtained a blood sample for testing.

Napolitan argued that the blood test may not have been legally obtained since Dawson did not give consent and Alonzo did not have a warrant, an argument that was refuted by Lapham.

Blood tests from the hospital and the blood sent to the DPS crime lab both showed Dawson’s blood tested over the legal limit of 0.08.

Bragg’s mother, Angela Lairson, briefly testified about her son. She said Bragg planned to enroll in the military after finishing high school.

When asked about what it has been like since the officer gave her the news of her son’s death, Lairson said, “I’m heartbroken.”

When Lapham showed Lairson a photo of her son from the crash site, she broke down in tears.

In his closing argument, Lapham argued that Dawson’s desire to show Bragg how fast his new car could go led to the deadly wreck.

“(Dawson’s) intoxication is why we’re here today. It’s what caused the accident,” Lapham told the jury.

After 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Dawson guilty of intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle.

During the punishment phase of the trial, several of Dawson’s family and friends testified on his behalf.

Dawson’s wife, Carissa Dawson, testified that the two lost a child when she was 38 weeks pregnant. She also said that earlier on the day of the wreck, her husband had been at the funeral of his step-grandfather and was upset about the loss.

Other witnesses testified that Dawson had a good job and had attended church regularly for the past year.

In his closing argument during the second phase of the trial, District Attorney Greg Lowery asked the jury to deliver a verdict that would protect others in the community from similar tragedies.

“Protect us from people who make bad decisions. Let families remain whole,” he said.

Belew made his closing argument to the jury about not punishing Dawson’s family for his actions.

“I’m not asking you not to punish him, but I am asking you to temper that justice with mercy – not for his sake, but for his wife and young child,” Belew said.

Dawson faced 2 to 20 years in prison for the second degree felony offense. Because he had not been previously convicted of a felony, he was also eligible for probation.

Lapham asked for at least a 10-year prison sentence.

The jury deliberated for about two hours Friday afternoon before delivering a verdict of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The jury also found that the car was used as a deadly weapon, which affects when Dawson will become eligible for parole. Dawson must serve half of his sentence before he is parole eligible.

*Editor’s note: An early version of this story was published in the Saturday, Nov. 18 issue of the Wise County Messenger.

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