Drunk driver gets 28 years in prison for deadly north Austin crash

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than two years after the crash that killed a 20-year-old woman, the man charged in connection to her death has been sentenced to prison for 28 years.

Maleeca Smith was killed while driving in north Austin in the intersection of Gracy Farms Lane and Burnet Road in April 2015. The University of Texas at San Antonio sophomore was home visiting her family for the weekend when police said Shawn Amende was driving drunk, ran a red light, and slammed into Smith’s car. She died at the scene.

On Monday, Amende, 29, pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter and aggravated assault charges. However, he pleaded “not true” to the deliberations regarding whether he used a deadly weapon in the act.

Despite the fact that the defense contested that aspect of the charges, the jury Friday night found Amende used his motor vehicle as a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime. Because the jury made this distinction, Amende must serve at least half his punishment — 14 years — before he will be eligible for parole.

After hearing four full days of witness testimony, the jury returned guilty verdicts for both charges and decided his punishment — 28 years for the intoxication manslaughter charge and 5 years for the aggravated assault charge. The sentences will run concurrently.

“Today’s verdict is one that we’re pleased with — just the simple fact of him going off in handcuffs is a beautiful thing to me,” said Gregory Harrington, Smith’s uncle. “The 28 year sentence is a beautiful thing for us, just to get him off the street.”

Before he was handcuffed and taken into custody in the 450th district court, Smith’s mother and sister had the chance to address Amende from the stand.

“You broke my heart when you killed my sister,” Smith’s sister, LiTiya said. “I need you to know that I don’t hate you… but only because of who my sister was.”

Smith’s mother told Amende that it has been 971 days since April 12, 2015 — the day he chose to drink and drive — and ultimately, take her daughter’s life. She also spoke about Maleeca’s contagious smile and her social nature.

“Drunk driving and fatalities are an epidemic and we need to take these more seriously,” said Allison Tisdale, an assistant district attorney prosecuting the case. “We need to make sure that more people are held accountable and I think that’s the result in this case.”

In March 2017, Smith’s mother filed a lawsuit against Amende and the business she says served him too much alcohol leading to her daughter’s death.

According to the lawsuit, Casa Chapala Mexican Grill served alcohol to Amende, even though he was reportedly seen unconscious on top of a table. The lawsuit claims the owners should take responsibility for serving Amende because he posed a danger to himself and others.

Smith was studying physical therapy at UTSA. She went to Eastside Memorial High School and graduated third in her class.

Amende can appeal his punishment, but because he entered into a guilty plea on the charges, he cannot appeal his guilt.

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