Christopher Maher

Alice Echo-News Journal

A Jim Wells County jury sentenced Vanessa Luera Villarreal to 180 days in prison Wednesday, for her role in a 2006 vehicle wreck near Orange Grove that left three people dead.

Villarreal was found guilty of three counts of criminal negligent homicide and was sentenced to 180 days in a state jail facility and a $5,000 fine on each charge.

That sentence will be served concurrently, court officials said, leaving Villarreal with 180 days in state jail and one $5,000 fine.

The guilty verdict returned by the jury found Villarreal was criminally negligent in a July 4, 2006 wreck that occurred on Highway 359 near Orange Grove and left three passengers in the car Villarreal was driving dead.

Those passengers were Jason Leal, 20, Christine Leal, 18, and Ubaldo Villarreal Jr., 22, all of Mathis.

On Wednesday, Ignacio Leal Jr., the brother of Jason Leal, said he was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq in July 2006, when he was informed by the American Red Cross that his brother and sister-in-law were dead.

“It’s very hard, I didn’t have any family, just my family from there in the Army,” Leal said. “At each airport coming home there were delays, 30 minutes or an hour, and I felt like I was never going to make it home.”

Leal was eventually given an honorable discharge to return home to help care for his parents and Jason and Christine Leal’s three-year-old daughter.

Ubaldo Villarreal Jr. also left behind a three-year-old child.

Yvonne Villarreal, Ubaldo Villarreal Jr.’s sister, said she was “relieved” by the jury’s verdict.

“He was a good father to his little girl,” Villarreal said. “He was a good boy who never got into any trouble.”

The jury was given the option of deferring the sentence if Villarreal completed a community supervision program, but the jury denied that option and required that she be sentenced to prison.

Following sentencing, defense attorney JoEllen Hewins announced to the court the defendant’s intent to appeal the verdict, and asked that Villarreal be released on bond while that appeal is in process.

District Judge Richard Terrell told Hewins he would review the request once it was presented to him in writing, and remanded Villarreal to the custody of the Jim Wells County Sheriff’s Department.

Prosecutor Thomas Turner said Wednesday once the motion for appeal is presented to the judge, the court is required to release Villarreal on bond during the appeal process, because of the relatively short nature of her sentence.