One segment of David and Jennifer Beaird’s post-traumatic experience at the hands of a drunk driver who took the lives of their two children is now officially over.
Sixty-one-year-old James L. Green of Odessa pleaded guilty today to five felony counts and was sentenced to 25 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
As many of you know, I previewed this development last week after a phone conversation with David, who told me he and Jennifer had approved a plea agreement offered by the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.
He did not know then when the plea would take place, but it happened today.
Green pleaded to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of assault. The fifth charge was driving with a suspended license. In keeping with the terms of a plea agreement, Green got varying terms that will run concurrently, that is, side by side instead of one after another.
The longest term — 25 years — was for murder, and he will have to serve 80 percent of it, or 20 years, before being eligible for parole.
Not only should Green not have been driving at all, he was drunk and thumbing through songs on his cellphone when he plowed into the back of the Beairds’ car on Labor Day evening near the I-70 Adams Dairy Parkway exit.
Stuck in eastbound traffic because of a minor mishap ahead, the Beairds were the proverbial sitting ducks in their Hyundai Alantra. Their two children, 13-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Chloe, sitting in back, were killed on impact. The crash left David unconscious and paralyzed from the chest down. Jennifer was not seriously injured and was aware of everything going on around her.
“I hate to think what Jennifer saw,” David told me in a phone conversation last week.
Green, who has been in the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center since the crash, had three prior DUI convictions.
I spoke with David this afternoon, telling him about the plea, and he was subdued, as he has been each time I have spoken with him, including in a Jan. 28 interview with him and Jennifer at their Warrenton home.
“Good to know,” he said, referring to the plea.
Since the crash, David and Jennifer have not allowed themselves to become consumed with anger at Green. Life is painful enough. They have focused their energy, instead, on their personal recovery — psychologically and, in David’s case, physically as well as psychologically. David has found it hard to look at photos of the children, which, when I was at their home in January, were tilted upright on the living-room floor against a small wooden case.
David has worked at getting physically stronger and learning how to cope with his new limitations. He has also taken up drawing. Jennifer, meanwhile, has kept busy working long hours this tax season at her job as manager of the H&R Block office in Warrenton.
They’re looking ahead, though, as I have reported before. Their house is for sale, and they are thinking about moving to Myrtle Beach. Understandably, they want to start afresh somewhere else, somewhere where they don’t stand out as “the parents who lost their children.”
I will continue to bring you updates on the Beairds. As far as I know, no other reporter has spoken with them. The case has been the subject of several stories in The Star, including one today on the plea. However, maybe because the Beairds live on the eastern side of the state, The Star apparently has made no attempt to contact the Beairds. Conversely, because the crash happened on the western side of the state, the media in the St. Louis area, including the Post-Dispatch, have given the case scant attention.
With Jennifer, David has started taking trips to expand his capabilities and his new, narrower world view.
“I need to get my confidence up that I can do things outside this house and this neighborhood,” he said today. “What’s the worst that can happen? The worst has already happened.”