Teresa Di Pietro leaned forward, angling her body in the direction of the screen at the far right wall of the courtroom as Assistant District Attorney Richard Villareal scanned a photo for the jury. Grasping the hand of a young man seated next to her, her face remained solemn as the pictures depicted the scene of the crash on March 9, 2013. The night her son had died.
Shattered glass lie strewn about the street in front of the Party Ranch at 5233 Christoval Road, where a white Chevy Truck blocked most of the southbound lane and part of the northbound lane, a 2012 Victory motorcycle between the two passenger-side wheels.
The scene was lit with headlights from various vehicles and the red and blue flashers of emergency trucks and cruisers, while the remainder of the area remained pitch black.
“Do you want to be here for this part?” asked the uniformed man at her right. Di Pietro nodded slowly but certainly. She had seen the pictures of her son before.
Ten women and three men were seated in the jury on Monday, when the trial of Allen Lee Schmidt began in Judge Weatherby’s 340th District Court. Schmidt, 44, has been indicted on charges of intoxication manslaughter with vehicle, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for his role in the fatal accident that occurred almost a year and a half ago.
In his opening arguments, appointed defense attorney Jimmy Stewart explained the events that occurred around 7:30 p.m. on March 9.
Malcom Guy McBurnett, the driver of a white Chevrolet pickup, had come into Party Ranch and taken a seat next to Schmidt at the bar. The two were familiar with each other, Stewart said, having met in the bar on previous occasions. Seated next to each other, McBurnett and Schmidt stayed in the bar for the next three hours, each consuming two to three beers.
When McBurnett got up to leave and returned shortly thereafter stating his truck wouldn’t start, Schmidt offered to help and exited the establishment with him, pulling his truck around to try and jump start the vehicle.
“They decide that they’re going to see if they can push the truck, pop the clutch and try and get it started,” Stewart added, noting that jumper cables had been ineffective.
Stewart then said Schmidt attempted to push the truck with his own, however McBurnett failed to cut the wheels to keep his vehicle on the shoulder and instead wound up in the road.
“…he hits the brakes or does something that the truck can’t be pushed any further,” Stewart continued, adding that video footage from that night showed the tires spinning and smoking on Schmidt’s truck as he continued to try to push the Chevy out of the road.
For the next four minutes, traffic around the two lanes slows and circumnavigated the stalled vehicle, which was still standing without lights in the midst of the darkened road.
Above: Marine Sergeant Donald Di Pietro was killed in a motorcycle crash in front of the Party Ranch, a former bar and music venue on Christoval Road.
When Marine Sergeant Donald Di Pietro approached on his 2012 Victory motorcycle, Schmidt saw him coming, Stewart stated, but it was too late. The motorcycle skid before crashing into the Chevy, and its driver was pronounced deceased on the scene.
Three 911 calls were played back to the jury on Monday afternoon when the state called its first witness, City of San Angelo Custodian of Records Norma Hooker.
“…wreck right here in front of Party Ranch…” a male caller relayed. “…yes ma’am there is an injury. A very, very bad injury…it’s a male...it looks real severe.”
“It’s a motorcycle...” a second caller said, “…he’s bleeding pretty bad.”
A third caller provided the physical address and could be heard relaying the facts reported from the scene outdoors over the phone indoors. “I need an ambulance,” she said. “It’s not good.”
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Workman, Di Pietro’s supervisor and friend, relayed to the jury on Monday that Di Pietro, himself and about five other marines had been at a friend’s house working on their motorcycles that afternoon, when Di Pietro and one of the marines present decided to go to Texas Roadhouse for a steak.
“When Donald was late, that was highly…unlike him,” Workman stated. “That’s how we knew something was wrong. He was never late.”
Workman testified that he and other marines then divided up to form a search party. It had been about an hour to an hour and a half since he’d last seen Di Pietro, and as he headed down Christoval Road, he came upon the scene of the crash and emergency personnel.
A TABC official was the first to arrive on scene that night, followed closely by San Angelo police officers Jason Chegwidden and John Bouligny, who were working together that night.
Police dashcam footage from Chegwidden’s car showed the officers rapidly approaching the scene at around 7:37 p.m., with emergency lights and sirens on. As officer Chegwidden began to control traffic around the accident, officer Bouligny could be heard trying to get Di Pietro’s attention.
“Hello! Hello! Hey! Can you hear me?!” Bouligny’s voice carried over the courtroom speakers.
Teresa Di Pietro briefly leaned forward, bowing her head with her arms on her knees.
The investigation continued with Bouligny questioning McBurnett, who was standing near his vehicle when emergency responders arrived. McBurnett told police he had been operating the vehicle, however no mention was made of Schmidt or his having helped push the truck into the road. Following the crash, Schmidt had parked his truck and returned to the bar.
Several cameras were set up at the Party Ranch on the night of the accident, two of which were fixed on the front of the building facing in opposite directions, north and south down Christoval Road. Following the accident, Crime Scene Investigator Christopher Clements and SAPD Detective James Hernandez returned to the bar to obtain video footage from the two cameras, which Clements stated in court showed the aftermath of the wreck.
“There is no camera angle that shows the pickup stalled on the road,” Clements said, adding that the street was visible. The video was not shown in the courtroom on Monday.
Because he was exhibiting signs of intoxication, officer Chegwidden conducted a field sobriety test on McBurnett, who was then taken into custody and booked into the county jail for DWI. When Justice of the Peace Kay Longest pronounced Di Pietro deceased, McBurnett was charged with intoxication manslaughter with a motor vehicle.
Following a competency hearing on May 5, 2014, McBurnett’s jury trial was vacated and an order for extended mental health services was signed by the judge.
Schmidt was arrested and booked into the Tom Green County Jail on May 10, 2013. He was released the following day on a $25k surety bond.
The trial continues in Judge Weatherby’s court Tuesday at 9 a.m.