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A Oklahoma man, who plowed his pickup truck into a high school cross country team while going 77 miles per hour, killing three teens and injuring four others, has been found guilty of three counts of second-degree murder.
Jurors found Max Leroy Townsend, 58, guilty Friday of all 10 counts against him in connection with the Feb. 3, 2020 crash that claimed the lives of Rachel Freeman, 17; Yuridia Martinez, 16; and Kolby Crum, 18, according to The Oklahoman.
“We know it’s never going to be able to make them whole again, nothing ever will, but at least they know the person that did this to their kids is not going to be outside of a wall for the rest of his life,” Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told Oxygen.com of what he hopes the verdict was able to achieve for the victims’ families.
Mashburn described the young victims as “great All-American high school kids” with “great reputations” and “bright futures” ahead of them when their lives were cut short that February afternoon.
The high school cross country team had been leaving the school for their regular run when Mashburn said Townsend—who had been driving down the same road as Moore High School—accelerated to 77 miles per hour into oncoming traffic, went around one vehicle and then careened off it onto the sidewalk where he struck the children.
The crash claimed the lives of Freeman, Martinez and Crum and injured four other teens.
After plowing into the team, Mashburn said Townsend turned right into a yard, crashed his truck and then was able to regain control of the pickup and make it back onto the road before his fuel line turned off because of the crash, forcing the car to come to a stop.
Several other high school kids, who had been driving in a vehicle that was almost hit by Townsend, were able to “catch up to him as he’s trying to start his vehicle and continue on” and took his keys from him before calling police.
Police discovered Townsend waiting at his vehicle at the scene and placed him under arrest.
Townsend told authorities that shortly before the crash he had taken a sip of Red Bull and had passed out after coughing.
"The only thing that makes sense is Max Townsend wasn't controlling that truck at all,” his defense attorney Kevin Butler said during the trial, according to the local paper.
However, Mashburn said surveillance cameras captured him “sitting straight up in the vehicle” with both hands clearly positioned on the wheel.
Investigators also learned that Townsend had provided other versions of the crash to others, telling one person he “went unconscious because of grief” after his own son had been killed in a car crash the day earlier, and told another that “the devil made him do it,” Mashburn said.
Ultimately, prosecutors don’t know what motivated the killings.
“He couldn’t even keep his story straight as to what happened,” Mashburn said. “We’ll never know exactly the thought process. Personally, I believe he just got onto that street and was just like ‘You know what? I am just going to gun it, and I am going to hit what I hit.’”
According to Mashburn, after his arrest, Townsend was captured in recorded jail calls talking about the victims in a derogatory manner.
“It was like he just hit some trash in the roadway … the way he talked about those kids in his jail calls and continued to refer to them after knowing full well what he had done by taking their life,” he said. “He’s just despicable.”
Mashburn said authorities charged Townsend with second-degree murder for each death because they were unable to prove that he had intended to strike the victims specifically.
“Had we been able to prove that he was gunning for those three kids, then I could have proved first-degree murder, but as it was, he had marijuana in his system, he had alcohol in his system and he was going 77 mph in a 25 mph zone, which, basically, we were able to prove that he was in reckless disregard for the safety of others and therefore was guilty of second-degree murder,” he said.
Townsend was also convicted of three counts of leaving the scene of a fatality accident and four counts of leaving the scene of an injury accident.
Although Townsend is expected to be formally sentenced by a judge at a later date, the jury recommended that Townsend receive a life sentence for each count of second-degree murder, 10 years for each count of fatality hit-and-run and two years for the hit-and-run causing injury charges.
“Our ultimate goal is to provide what closure we can for the victim’s families and so the rewarding part for us is being able to help them hopefully move past this part of it, at least, to know that they can go to bed knowing that that person was held accountable,” Mashburn said.
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