A Denton County grand jury indicted a Gainesville man on a manslaughter charge after testimony revealed he was making a video call just before his vehicle rear-ended another on Christmas Eve, killing a 5-year-old Cross Roads girl.
Garrett Edward Wilhelm, 21, was booked into the Denton County Jail on Tuesday afternoon on the manslaughter charge and a theft charge unrelated to the indictment. He was released Tuesday night after posting two bonds totaling $25,500.
Neither Wilhelm nor the family of Moriah Modisette could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. Moriah, 5, was in the left rear seat of her family’s Toyota Camry at the time of the accident, at about 3 p.m. Dec. 24. She was in critical condition when she was airlifted to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. She later died of her injuries.
Wilhelm, who was 20 at the time, told police he was using his cellphone when the accident occurred. The call was still active when the phone was located at the accident scene. Investigators did not release information about the call in the early days of the investigation.
Many newer cellphones include mobile apps for video calls, such as FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts and Tango. The applications allow callers to see each other as they converse.
According to police, Wilhelm was on his way to his parent’s home in Keller at the time of the accident. James Modisette, who was driving the family car, had come to a stop in the left lane of southbound Interstate 35W along with other vehicles that were slowing for an incident about 1,500 feet ahead.
The Texas Highway Patrol had conducted a traffic stop near mile marker 81.
Wilhelm was traveling 65 mph when his Toyota 4Runner hit the rear of the Modisettes’ Camry, pushing it forward and then around until it faced the wrong direction in the right lane of traffic.
James Modisette had to be extricated from the car. He was taken to a hospital in serious condition. Moriah’s mother, Bethany Modisette, who was riding up front on the passenger side, and her 8-year-old sister, Isabella Modisette, were taken to a hospital in stable condition.
Information on the indictment, which was returned Friday, was not made public until after the arrest warrant was executed Tuesday.
Texas stands among a handful of states that still do not restrict the use of cellphones while driving for most drivers. Drivers younger than 18 are prohibited from using wireless communication devices. All Texas drivers are prohibited from texting or using handheld devices in school zones.
About 40 Texas cities, however, restrict the use of cellphones in some form. Denton bans texting and driving on city streets, but the city ordinance does not include the interstate.
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas and carries with it the possibility of up to a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of at least two years, but no more than 20 years.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
IN THE KNOW
The following is a list of facts about the dangers of driving while distracted:
Ten percent of drivers younger than 20 who were involved in fatal crashes reported being distracted at the time of the crash.
Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of a fatal crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at any given moment during the day, approximately 660,000 drivers in the United States are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving. That number has not changed since 2010.
Experts estimate drivers take their eyes off the road an average of five seconds to text. That’s enough time to cover the length of a football field, as if blindfolded, when driving 55 mph.