Lawyer for ex-astronaut charged in fatal crash blames Ambien

2 photos
Save Story

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A former space shuttle commander charged in the traffic deaths of two girls in Alabama was having an abnormal reaction to sleep medication at the time of the crash, his lawyer said.

Jim Sturdivant, an attorney for retired astronaut James Halsell Jr., told WAAY-TV in a Monday report that the two-car wreck was a “sleep-driving episode” caused by Ambien, also known as zolpidem.

Halsell, 63, of Huntsville had an “abnormal response” to the medication, Sturdivant said.

“It is not uncommon for zolpidem or Ambien to render a person incapable of controlling their actions and totally unaware of their behavior,” he said. “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.”

Halsell is awaiting trial on reckless murder charges.

Authorities allege he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol in 2016, when the wreck in Tuscaloosa County killed 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler.

The crash happened about 2:50 a.m. on a highway that Halsell mistook for Interstate 20/59, authorities have said. An investigation showed he was intoxicated from alcohol and sleeping pills.

Troopers said at the time that a vehicle driven by Halsell collided with a Ford Fiesta in which the girls were riding. Authorities said their father and a woman were with them. Documents show Halsell told authorities he had been driving to Louisiana to pick up his son.

He has pleaded not guilty.

A judge has set Halsell’s reckless murder trial for Dec. 9 in Tuscaloosa, but it could be delayed at least briefly for other cases.

Halsell flew five shuttle missions before retiring from NASA and worked in private industry before the wreck. He is free on bond.


Information from: WAAY-TV,

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Most recent U.S. stories

Related topics

The Associated Press


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast