A Madison man was texting while driving and may have been intoxicated when he struck and killed a pedestrian, and now will serve nearly five years in prison for failing to report it.
Travis E. Crain pleaded guilty in February to a class 1 felony. He admitted leaving the scene after his 2004 Dodge Dakota hit a 25-year-old St. Louis man on April 19, 2015, in Granite City. According to police testimony, he had been drinking earlier that night in a Granite City bar before he struck Mark Scott Harris Jr., who was walking along Edwardsville Road that night.
Madison County Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower sentenced him Tuesday to 54 months in prison. He has already served more than one year in jail awaiting trial and sentencing.
I will pray for the rest of my life for his family. I hope one day my apology can be accepted.
Harris, 25, of St. Louis was a graduate of Pattonville High School, he had earned two varsity letters as a wide receiver and was an all-conference selection as a senior, according to his obituary. He received a partial football scholarship to Quincy University, where he majored in sports communications.
Police were called about 7:45 a.m. on April 19, 2015 for a report of a dead man in the roadway. Surveillance video from the area led police to Crain’s truck. “I asked him why he didn’t stop,” said Granite City Police Det. Jeff Donahey. “He said he was scared because he’d been drinking.”
Donahey said Crain admitted to drinking about 15 beers earlier in the evening. After the bar closed, he had gone to a local Jack-in-the-Box restaurant before driving down Edwardsville Road, where he hit Harris in the 2500 block. Police said Crain was texting on his mobile phone when Harris was hit.
Crain, who has been in custody in the Madison County Jail, spoke on his own behalf at the sentencing. He apologized to Harris’ loved ones.
“I can only imagine what they’ve gone through the last year,” he said. “I will pray for the rest of my life for his family. I hope one day my apology can be accepted. I want you to know I am deeply sorry for your loss.”
Prosecutor Crystal Uhe said it was an absolutely preventable accident.
“What would have happened if he had called 911 that night instead of driving away?” she said. “We will never know.”
“Mark was a great young man with a heart of gold,” said Mark Harris Sr., Harris’ father. “I’m not just saying it because he’s my son. I know Mark, and I know the kind of man he was.”
Family and friends sitting on the prosecution’s side of the courtroom began crying during Harris’ testimony.
“We are all still trying to understand why this happened to such a fine young man,” Harris said. “It leaves you speechless, and continually asking the question, ‘Why?’”
Harris said he believes Crain knew he had hit a human being when he struck Mark. “He had a split-second decision to make and he decided to leave, thinking he could get away with it,” Harris said. “It was dark, no one saw (him). He underestimated the Granite City Police Department.”
Harris told Crain during his victim-impact testimony that he hoped Crain comes out of the experience having learned his lesson. “It’s time to step up and face responsibility as a young man and a human being … and I can live with that.”
My brother will never come home to my family again. We will never share another holiday, will never have another birthday. We will never see him again.
Curleta Harris, Mark’s sister, said she helped her father take care of Mark when her mother died when Mark was 2 months old. Eight years older, she said it felt like she was his mother, and he was her best friend. She swore when their mother died that she would always protect him.
“We never lost that bond,” She said. “Mark was a joy to everybody that he met … he meant something. And he was something. He wasn’t a statistic, and he wasn’t a criminal.”
Curleta Harris turned angry as she spoke about Crain. She said she didn’t believe that Crain didn’t realize he’d hit a human being that night.
“We all have the right to walk down the street without some callous, unfeeling person driving drunk,” she said. “Travis did not treat my brother like a human being … You’re 24 years old. You have your whole life ahead of you. My brother will never come home to my family again. We will never share another holiday, will never have another birthday. We will never see him again.”
The possible sentence for Crain ranged from probation to eight years in prison. An initial charge of reckless homicide was dropped as part of his plea bargain.
Curleta Harris said she was not satisfied with the verdict. She said since Crain admitted he had been drinking that night, he should have faced more charges and a stiffer sentence.
“He got a slap on the wrist,” she said. “He’ll be out in a year and a half. Nobody will care.”
For someone to lose their life, and for him to only do two years in jail is … a person was killed, my son.
Mark Harris Sr.
Uhe had argued for the maximum possible sentence of eight years due to the aggravating factors.
“Had Travis Crain stuck around, he would ultimately likely been charged with driving under the influence,” she said. “He should not be rewarded for not sticking around.”
Later Uhe said he could not have been charged with DUI because he was arrested more than 48 hours after the event, and the alcohol had dissipated in his bloodstream beyond their ability to test. However, she said she argued for a prison sentence because if he had been charged with a fatal DUI, probation would not have been an option under sentencing guidelines.
Defense attorney Jim Stern said Crain had no pattern of leaving the scene of an accident, and cooperated with police interrogations.
“I don’t believe you will deter impulsive behavior (with a lengthy sentence),” he said.
Stern said it was an accident complicated by a street with poor visibility and water on the road. It’s not an excuse, he said, but it makes it more likely that Crain would not have seen Harris in his mirrors.
Stern said Crain has served 379 days in jail already, now serving as a jail trustee, and asked that that serve as his sentence. “That is a lot longer sentence than I’ve seen in these cases,” he said.
But it wasn’t long enough for the Harris family. Curleta Harris described the last year as “hell on earth.”
“He’s never coming back,” she said. “And (Crain) has no remorse.”
Mark Harris Sr. agreed. “For someone to lose their life, and for him to only do two years in jail is … a person was killed, my son. (Crain) will do his time, and in a year he’ll be on parole, free to live his life.”
Uhe confirmed that Crain will receive credit for the year he has spent in jail. The sentence is also subject to a reduction up to 50 percent for good behavior.