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story.lead_photo.caption James Crowe, wife Kristen Crowe and their son, Ezra, are seen in this submitted photo. James Crowe, 24, was killed when Forrest Stewart Jr., high on meth, crossed 7 feet into James Crowe's lane on U.S. Highway 67 in Miller County and hit him head-on. Stewart was found guilty of felony negligent homicide Wednesday and sentenced to a maximum 20-year term. (Submitted photo)

Many Miller County jurors wept before handing down a maximum 20-year sentence for a man who was high on meth when he caused a crash that took the life of a 24-year-old husband and father.

Forrest Rector Stewart Jr.

As the mother, wife and sister of James Crowe testified Wednesday morning at the Miller County Courthouse, one juror quietly asked a court staffer for a box of tissues, which was then passed around the jury box.

The jury deliberated less than 30 minutes before finding Forrest Rector Stewart Jr., 64, guilty of felony negligent homicide.

It didn't take them long to sentence Stewart to a maximum 20-year term and assess a maximum $15,000 fine.

James Crowe was killed at about 6:45 a.m. Nov. 2, 2017, as he headed from his home in Hope, Ark., to his job in Texarkana. His wife, Kristen Crowe, testified that she rose early that morning and was filling out paperwork for a job she was expecting to start that day when she glanced over to marvel at the peaceful sight of her sleeping husband and son, then an 18-month-old.

Kristen Crowe said she had no idea that would be one of the last times she would see the love of her life alive. Later that morning, she got word of a fatal wreck on U.S. Highway 67. As she drove along the highway, she called her husband's phone. He didn't answer.

When she approached the accident scene, she pulled over and got the attention of a deputy.

After confirming who she was, Arkansas State Police Trooper Dale Young emerged from a cruiser with his hat on his chest. Kristen Crowe said that the sight of the hat held to Young's chest led her mind to believe the worst and that when Young put the hat on his head, she allowed herself to believe James Crowe was all right.

But he wasn't.

Kristen Crowe's testimony brought many in the courtroom to tears.

The couple married young and planned for a lifetime together. The day before her husband died, Kristen Crowe turned 21. Her son, now an active 3-year-old, couldn't sit quietly enough to remain in the courtroom. Family members, a large group of whom attended the trial, escorted the boy out, his arms full of toy cars and trucks.

"I'll be an old woman in love with a man who never made it past 24," Kristen Crowe said, turning her grief-stricken gaze toward Stewart. "He was so good and now he's gone because of what you did."

James Crowe's sister, Brittany Brown, said that when she saw a photo of Stewart's mangled truck on social media, she thought how terrible it must be for a family to learn of a loved one's death in such a way. The person posting the photo had noted that they did not post a photo of the other car because of the fatality.

"I never thought that family would be mine. I texted my brother asking if he was OK. I never got a reply," Brown said.

She said her brother called her every day on his way home from work.

"I wish I could hear him singing again. It was terrible," Brown said. "You took him away from us. He didn't smoke, he didn't drink, he never did a drug in his life, but he's dead because you couldn't stay away from such things."

James Crowe's mother, Tammy Crowe, spoke of the unimaginable pain the loss of a child brings.

"On that day, a part of me died with my son and that was because of you," Tammy Crowe said.

During the punishment phase of trial, Stewart took the stand and apologized to the Crowe family.

Stewart's defense lawyer, Theodis Thompson of Little Rock, called Stewart's sister to testify.

She spoke of Stewart's military service, his time volunteering to coach his son's sports team and participation in a parent and teacher organization.

In her closing remarks, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell reminded the jury that James Crowe will never get to serve his country, will never get to coach his son's football team and will never attend a P.T.A. meeting.

"I'm sure Mr. Stewert is sorry. We're all sorry when our poor decisions catch up to us. He wasn't sorry when he used meth. He wasn't sorry when he got in that truck. He wasn't sorry when he hit James Crowe. Not once was he sorry, but he's sorry now because he's going to prison. He's sorry because today he has to pay the price," Mitchell said.

During closing arguments in the first phase of Stewart's trial, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Cotten reminded the jury of testimony they heard Tuesday from a number of first responders, law enforcement officers and an emergency room nurse.

All testified that Stewart cursed those trying to help him from his wrecked truck, that he appeared "hyped up" and agitated, that he was combative and uncooperative.

Stewart's blood tested positively for methamphetamine. A toxicology expert from Indiana testified that the level in Stewart's blood was high and, when combined with witness accounts, led him to conclude Stewart was intoxicated from methamphetamine use when the vehicle crossed more than seven feet into James Crowe's lane.

Stewart will be eligible for parole after completing approximately one sixth of his term. Stewart, who had been free on bond, was taken into custody at the trial's conclusion before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson. Stewart will be held in the Miller County jail until he is transported to Arkansas Department of Correction.

 

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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