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Utah man sentenced to prison for texting-while-driving death

Published July 2, 2013 12:53 pm

Courts • Case is first successful prosecution under amended law.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In what is apparently the first successful prosecution in Utah under a newly amended law, a Uintah County man who killed a Vernal teenager in September while texting and driving was sentenced Monday to prison.

Jeffery Llody Bascom, 29, of Jensen, will spend up to five years behind bars for killing 15-year-old Thomas Lavelle Clark, an incident that led prosecutors to charge him with one count of second-degree felony automobile homicide involving a hand-held wireless communication device while driving.

In May, as part of a deal with prosecutors, Bascom pleaded guilty to a lesser third-degree felony count of auto homicide involving a hand-held wireless communication device while driving.

Clark's mother, Evie Lesser, said Tuesday during an interview with The Tribune that Bascom also will have to participate in a public service announcement about the dangers of texting while driving.

Lesser called Monday's sentencing hearing in 8th District Court "bittersweet," saying she was pleased Bascom will spend time in prison but doubts that he is remorseful. Lesser also said she brought Clark's ashes and a plaster cast of his hand to court Monday and displayed them during her victim statement.

"I told the judge, 'this is the hand I get to hold now, this is how I talk to my son,' " she recalled. "When you lose a child you never have a sense of resolution, you just have a small scab over the wound."

The case began Sept. 2 when Bascom's Dodge pickup drifted off 500 West in Vernal about 9 p.m. The truck hit Clark, who had been walking along the road with a friend. Police reported that Bascom had been texting at the time of the accident.

Clark was taken to the hospital and died the next day.

A search of Utah court records through UtahsRight.com shows that Bascom has been the only person charged under the newly amended texting-while-driving law since it took effect May 8, 2012.

The amended law makes it illegal to do anything on a hand-held wireless device except make or receive a call, or use GPS navigation. Before the change, a driver had to be sending a text at the instant an accident occurred — merely looking at a text or the screen of a cellphone was not illegal.

Bascom has a long history of traffic violations dating back to when he was 16, according to Utah court records. In 2009, he was convicted of driving more than 40 mph over the speed limit. Since the September accident, prosecutors also have charged Bascom with felonies for drug possession and joyriding.

In addition, Clark's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bascom, though the suit was settled in May.

According to Lesser, the case should serve as a warning to others who might consider texting and driving. She added that with Bascom's case concluding, she plans to advocate for tougher texting-while-driving laws.

"We as a family are Tommy's voice," Lesser said. "We have to be there, we have to do this for Tommy."

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii