HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A Long Beach woman found guilty of felony DUI causing death last week was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with 12 years suspended, Monday. Kaleigh Ann Dartez, 21, will spend the next 13 years behind bars for the 2014 crash that killed 21-year-old Zackary Whitfield.
In November 2014, Dartez lost control of her car on Kiln Delisle Road when she failed to negotiate the curve near Bradley Road. Her passenger, Whitfield, was thrown from the vehicle when it ran off the road and flipped several times. He died from a broken neck.
Deputies with the Harrison County Sheriff's Office testified that after receiving a 911 call about the crash, they arrived to find an intoxicated Dartez walking down Kiln-Delisle Road.
At trial, Dartez's defense tried to convince the jury that she was not driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.
Before the crash, the pair was at a bar in Diamondhead. One acquaintance testified she personally observed the defendant driving away from the bar with the victim in the passenger seat. Prosecutors presented surveillance video that backed up that claim.
The prosecution also called three medical professionals to testify about treating the defendant in the aftermath of the crash. Each testified that she admitted to them, all at separate times, that she was driving her car when it wrecked. One of these admissions was even captured on a deputy's camera and was played for the jury.
"The Sheriff's Office collected both the driver and passenger airbag from the wrecked car and submitted them for forensic analysis. A DNA expert analyzed them and found the defendant's DNA on the driver side airbag and the victim's DNA on the passenger side airbag," said ADA Matthew Burrell, who prosecuted the case with ADA Alison Baker.
Investigators said on the night of the crash, Dartez's blood-alcohol content was 0.219. That's almost three times the legal limit of 0.08.
During Monday's sentencing hearing, Whitfield's father told the court about the emotional and mental effects of losing a child. He also talked about his son's two young children, who will have to grow up without a father.
Dartez then apologized to Whitfield's family, saying she wants to share her story with young people in an effort to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.