A jury trial was deliberately absent in the case of Gregory Eugene Knabe, 53, who received a concurrent 12-year sentence Thursday for July’s vehicular manslaughter of William Rohmer, 52, plus the serious injuries to Rohmer’s daughter and a failure to stop and render aid.
Cooke County Assistant District Attorney Ron Poole said Tuesday that Knabe will have to serve a full six years before parole eligibility.
He added that Knabe opted to skip a jury trial — likely to evade a longer prison term.
“That’s usually why people waive their jury,” Poole said.
The manslaughter and bodily injury convictions stemmed from a collision on westbound Highway 82 shortly before 4 a.m. July 23. Law enforcement reported later in the morning that the incident began as William Rohmer stood on the side of the highway with wife Laura, helping their daughter Amanda.
“They were in the process of changing a flat,” Cooke County Sheriff Mike Compton said, adding that their separate vehicles were parked close to a roadside park near the FM 1198 turnoff into Myra. “A vehicle struck the three, and left the scene.”
The impact killed William Rohmer on site and seriously injured Amanda Rohmer, who was airlifted to Harris Methodist Medical Center in Fort Worth and later released. Laura Rohmer suffered no major physical harm, but was taken to North Texas Medical Center and treated for shock.
The driver was Knabe, who reportedly spent time at local bars before heading home to his residence on County Road 360 in Muenster. But Poole explained Tuesday that Knabe’s vehicle, a truck, didn’t belong to him. It had been lent for the night despite the fact that Knabe had a suspended driver’s license.
“An employee of his rented the truck from Enterprise Car Rental,” Poole said about Knabe. “And lo and behold, Knabe was driving it. So once they checked that out, they knew who he was.”
Knabe never stopped driving despite the collision, which damaged the truck and forced him to travel on a wheel rim. This left a trail of gauge marks that officers were able to trace to his rural residence once daylight came.
On July 23, Compton said Texas Department of Public Safety Cpl. Mike Linnell arrested Knabe at his home mere hours after the collision.
Knabe then spent several months in holding at the Cooke County Justice Center, awaiting legal hearings. And though his defense later reportedly raised doubt about his intoxication at the time of the collision, Poole said a jury trial would have quelled this.
“We have some witnesses who would have testified he was consuming alcohol before this occurred,” he said, and then admitted that on the morning of his arrest, Knabe’s blood alcohol level registered 0.0 following tests. “But the sample was taken so long after the incident that he would have had time to get it out of his system.”
Knabe was later indicted on one count of manslaughter, a second-degree felony; one count of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony; and three counts of failure to stop and render aid, all third-degree felonies. Poole speculated Tuesday that one factor in Knabe’s choice to skip a jury trial and accept a 12-year sentence may have been his knowledge of the recent 20-year sentencing of Lake Kiowa resident Steve Patterson.
Patterson, 66, received the maximum sentence for the intoxication manslaughter of brother David Patterson, 58, following a rollover accident in June 2010. Patterson will have to serve a full decade in prison before being eligible for parole, and for a crime similar to Knabe’s.
“I think he was concerned about what they might do to a driver like that,” Poole said.
As per routine, Knabe is still in holding at Cooke County Justice Center, awaiting transfer to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice diagnostic center and then his final holding facility.
Poole said he couldn’t disclose when Knabe will leave the Cooke County jail.
“They keep that secret when they send someone,” he said. “It cuts down on escapes, probably.”