$22M verdict in crash that killed Houstonian

Megan Small of Houston was driving to Waco when the November 2007 accident happened near Calvert.

March 19, 2010 3:43:28 PM PDT
A college student with a promising future had her life cut short one fateful night more than two years ago. Now a jury is has made a bold statement about the consequences of texting while driving. The victim's family says a driver distracted while text messaging caused the crash that killed their daughter. A Texas jury has now ordered that driver to pay.

Those involved call this a landmark decision. The driver of that vehicle who caused the deadly wreck two and a half years ago has now been ordered to pay $22 million.

The crash happened November 25, 2007, on Highway 6 about nine miles north of Calvert, which is northwest of Bryan, Texas. Megan Small, 21, was killed when the car driven by Reed Vestal, a student at A&M, crossed the center line and struck her vehicle head-on. Small was a senior at Baylor University and was driving back to school when her car was hit.

The civil attorney representing Small's family says phone records indicate Vestal sent 15 texts and made seven calls in the 45 minutes just before the wreck. That's despite Vestal's initial claim that he had no phone on him at the time of the crash.

The Small family says this verdict should force people think twice about texting and driving.

"We were just touched by the verdict and the support of the jury and how much they feel about text messaging and driving," said Megan's mother Patricia Small. "We're hoping that this will send a message out to the community so that it's safer and better for everybody."

Will Small's family see any of the money? They're not optimistic. They know Vestal doesn't have much. He declared bankruptcy just before the trial and his insurance has limits far below the $22 million. But they say it's never been about the money.

The Small family attorney says police initially wanted to charge Vestal with criminally negligent homicide, but a grand jury no-billed him in Robertson County. The attorney says the Robertson County DA didn't investigate Vestal's phone records. The DA there was unavailable for comment. Vestal's attorney has not commented on the verdict.