Tripp Bird was convicted Thursday on one count of aggravated assault and one count failure to stop and render aid in the road rage incident that ended in a two-car wreck on FM 691 back in July of 2016.
Jennifer Russell, a passenger in one of the cars in the wreck, suffered serious injuries and eventually went through more than 20 operations. Her right leg was so badly damaged that it had to be removed, and Russell died last December.
Jurors must now decide what kind of punishment Bird should receive for his part in the wreck.
In convicting Bird of the aggravated assault, they seemed to have rejected his attorney’s claims that the complete responsibility for the wreck rested with the driver of the car in which Russell was riding, James McGee. McGee testified that the wreck occurred because he was trying to get away from the Hyundai Tiburon Bird was driving.
The situation started, testimony in court this week revealed, when Russell and McGee were headed to a job interview that Russell had at IHOP in Sherman. They were coming from Russell’s apartment at Perrin Field and took 691 to Loy Lake Road. On Loy Lake, McGee said, he was cut off by the Tiburon, and the car then “brake checked him a number of times as they made their way from Sara Swamy Drive to the bridge over U.S. Highway 82. At that point, McGee said, he got out of his car, walked over to the Tiburon and spit at the driver who turned out to be Bird. McGee said Bird then got out of his car, walked over to the car McGee was now back in and started punching at McGee. When the light turned green, McGee said, he drove off leaving Bird behind.
Other witnesses in the trial testified that Bird then went to his nearby apartment and told his roommates what had happened. One of those roommates, Joshua Haliburton, suggested that they go out and find McGee.
And, they did.
McGee was driving Russell home after she found out she got the job at IHOP. They were just around Sherman’s Town Center when Bird noticed McGee’s car. Testimony revealed he called Haliburton and they both followed McGee’s car. When they got to the stop sign at FM 691, testimony revealed, Haliburton jumped out of his truck and started yelling in the passenger’s side of the car. McGee said he also saw Bird start to get out of his car, though others testified that they didn’t’ see that.
McGee testified that he was afraid at that point and took off quickly. Bird testified that he also took off quickly behind McGee. This is the point where the testimonies start to differ. McGee said Bird eventually got in front of him and stomped his brakes forcing McGee to try to go around him and end up in the wreck. Bird said he did not stop his brakes, and that the wreck happened as McGee was trying to pass illegally in a no passing zone.
McGee was ticketed for driving with a suspended license, driving at an unsafe speed, and passing in a no passing zone.
During closing arguments, Bird’s attorney Elijah Brown said the fault in the accident rested solely with McGee because McGee was breaking the law by even getting behind the wheel since he didn’t have a valid driver’s license, and McGee then further was responsible because he was the one who decided to exceed the speed limit as he drove down FM 691. He was also the one, Brown said, who decided to try to pass in a no passing zone.
Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Don Hoover urged jurors not give in to the defense’s desire to paint McGee as the villain in the case. Hoover said McGee might have felt responsible on the night of the wreck because he had just been in a horrible collision, but Bird was the one who started the whole thing. Hoover said the fight was over when McGee drove away at the light on the Hwy 82 bridge. Everything, he said, should have ended there. One guy had spit on another and the offended party had got his revenge by physically attacking the guy who spit. It was over. But then Bird came back for more, Hoover said, and that made him the aggressor in the situation. And, Bird kept on being aggressive as he chased McGee and Russell down FM 691. His actions caused McGee to make the choices that led to the wreck and Russell’s horrible injuries.
The same jury was set to determine what penalty Bird should face in the case. His friend Joshua Haliburton is set for trial on similar charges in January.