The lawyer for a Huntsville astronaut facing charges of reckless murder in a wreck that killed two girls says his client was under the influence of Ambien.
“An abnormal response to the sleep aid zolpidem, sold under the name Ambien in the United States, induced a sleep-driving episode that resulted in a horrible accident,” said James Sturdivant, attorney for former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander James Halsell Jr.
“It is not uncommon for zolpidem or Ambien to render a person incapable of controlling their actions and totally unaware of their behavior.
“While Col. Halsell deeply regrets the tragedy this incident created, he is innocent of the charge that is being brought against him by the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office.”
The 63-year-old Halsell was arrested after a wreck killed 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler in rural Tuscaloosa County in 2016.
Halsell has pleaded not guilty.
The girls’ father and a woman were with the sisters when the crash occurred. Documents show Halsell lives in Huntsville and told authorities he was driving to Louisiana to pick up his son when the wreck happened.
An indictment accuses Halsell of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.