Former astronaut out on bond, awaiting trial in alleged drunk driving killing of 2 girls

James D. Halsell Jr. of Huntsville is charged with murder in connection with a fatal crash near Tuscaloosa on Monday, June 6, 2016. (NASA/Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — The mother of the two young girls killed in a horrific car crash Monday is speaking out.

Niomi James, 11, and Jayla Parler, 13, were both killed after their car was struck from behind. Retired astronaut James Halsell, 59, allegedly struck their vehicle with his rented Chrysler 200.

The girls lived in Houston,TX, and were traveling to Brent, Ala. to spend the summer with their father. Their mother is devastated.

“The hardest part of this is facing the reality that I will never ever be able to see my children or possibly ever be a grandmother,” she said. “Everything about it is hard.”

Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Cross says that he believes there is no doubt that Halsell, who flew several Space Shuttle missions, was driving drunk when he allegedly caused the accident.

“This is a God-awful case that involves two little girls who were killed,” Cross said. “And there is no reason for them to be dead, other then someone chose to drink and drive.”

Court documents say Halsell told state troopers that he drank three glasses of wine. When authorities searched his room at the Motel 6 in Tuscaloosa, they found an empty wine bottle and an empty package of sleeping pills.

According to court documents, Halsell did not remember the crash and asked the troopers to see the bodies of the victims.  A witness who stopped to help at the crash site told investigators that Halsell tried to take his car and leave the scene.

The District Attorney’s office tells CBS 42 news that Halsell could face more charges, including assault, but the Grand Jury will make the decision.  Halsell bonded out of jail, no court date has been set.

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