A 22-year-old Sioux Falls man admits he was texting and driving when he caused a deadly multiple-vehicle crash on Minnesota Avenue in July 2012.
Friday in court, Brent O'Neal changed his plea to guilty in his manslaughter case after a judge denied his request to throw out a recorded jail cell conversation as evidence. During the conversation between O'Neal and one of his visitors, O'Neal admits to the crime.
When O'Neal caused the multi-vehicle crash at the intersection of 26th Street and Minnesota Avenue on July 25, 2012, he originally told police he was cleaning his phone.
But O'Neal later admitted in a recorded phone conversation from jail that he was texting a friend.
Here's part of that conversation.
Visitor: What the ---- happened?
O'Neal: ---- just driving, texting. All I know, looked up, ------ started hitting ----. It was just one after another. One, two, three.
O'Neal: I'm getting Jimmy John's. Next thing I know I'm texting, then bam.
Visitor: What happened?
O'Neal: No lie. I was texting you.
O'Neal was driving southbound when he struck another car and O'Neal's car turned into oncoming traffic. He then struck two other vehicles before hitting a motorcycle driven by Phillip Sorenson. Sorenson later died from his injuries at the hospital.
O'Neal's lawyers had tried to suppress statements he made in that recorded jail cell conversation and to officers following the crash. Investigators checked O'Neal's cell phone and didn't find any evidence of text messages at or around the time of the accident, so it couldn't be corroborated.
But after the judge allowed the recorded conversation as evidence in his upcoming trial, O'Neal decided to change his plea.
As part of the plea bargain, O'Neal can get no more than 13 years in prison when he's sentenced.