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Former astronaut facing vehicular homicide charges

Media outlets in Pennsylvania and around the country have reported that a former NASA astronaut and Air Force test pilot was taken into custody during the early morning hours of June 6 after a car accident in Alabama left two young girls dead. The 59-year-old man was charged with multiple counts of murder after police determined that he was likely intoxicated and speeding when his vehicle rear-ended the car carrying the sisters.

The car accident took place on a twisting and wooded stretch of highway in Tuscaloosa County at approximately 2:50 a.m. Responding police officers say that fresh skid marks were clearly visible on the roadway and the former astronaut was unsteady on his feet, smelled strongly of alcohol and was slurring his words. A search of his motel room is said to have uncovered an empty wine bottle and a discarded package of sleeping pills.

According to police reports, the former astronaut's vehicle struck the car carrying the young girls with such force that it pushed it across the roadway and caused it to flip over. The girls were killed after being ejected from the vehicle. Reports indicate that the girls were not restrained by seat belts at the time. Their father and a female passenger also suffered injuries in the crash.

The issue of comparative negligence is often raised in lawsuits stemming from accidents such as this one. Drunk drivers are clearly at fault when they operate their vehicles recklessly and cause accidents, but the damages awarded to accident victims may be reduced if they failed to take all reasonable steps to protect themselves. Not wearing a seat belt or driving a vehicle with bald tires or other obvious safety defects are common reasons for the defendants in personal injury cases to argue that a plaintiff's negligence played a role. Experienced personal injury attorneys may recommend that their clients make no admissions or compromising statements following an accident even when the facts appear to be overwhelmingly in their favor.

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