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East Texas family mourns loss of woman killed by alleged drunk driver as intoxicated manslaughter crashes increase across the area

A 2021 report showed that the motor vehicle crash mortality rate in Northeast Texas is 77% higher than anywhere else across the state.

PALESTINE, Texas — On Tuesday, an East Texas family said goodbye to Kandy Sexton, 41, after police say she was struck and killed by an intoxicated hit-and-run driver.

Dr. David English led the service. 

“There are a lot of questions, questions that I dare say will probably never be answered,” he said. 

Kandy's husband, John, says he was walking with her from McDonald's to the Chili's across the street when she got hit.

Police say Colby Gholston, 30, left the scene after the crash.

Sexton’s sister, Jennifer Mills, flew in from Springfield, Illinois to attend Sexton’s funeral Tuesday. She described her as a very happy person who stayed positive through every situation and would do anything for anybody. 

Kandy and Jennifer were adopted by two different families across the country from each other. Jennifer began writing to her when she was around nine or 10 and the two finally met when they were 12. Jennifer's family drove from Illinois to Texas and the sisters “instantly connected, like 12 years were never wasted”."

Jennifer said Tuesday that it had been a few months since they connected, something she regrets. She found out about Kandy's death Sunday morning when she woke up to the phone call. 

“It’s the worst nightmare you could possibly…a living nightmare,” Jennifer said. 

“I’m angry," Jennifer said. "Just because you want to go out and have fun, that’s fine and dandy, but there’s other options besides driving home while you’re intoxicated. Your life, somebody else’s life, a stranger’s life, you put everybody in danger by driving home and it doesn’t just affect you."

Jennifer says the family is “lost” and “broken.” She said it had been a while since they had all united, and discussed amongst themselves that death should not have been the reason to reunite. As the family grieves, they plan to spend more time together in reunions and talking more often. 

“This incident affected more lives than just your little one night of going out and having a drink,” Jennifer said. "She added she didn’t want to say anything publicly, but that someone needed to say something, even if it means it saves just one life."

Jennifer says Kandy left a legacy that has taught her to persevere, even through the worst situations. 

The East Texas area has seen an uptick in alleged alcohol-related crashes to kick off 2022.

Last week in Tyler, one intoxicated manslaughter motor vehicle wreck caused the death of a Tyler Legacy High School senior. According to the Tyler Police Dept., Jason Charles, the Tyler man who was charged with intoxicated manslaughter, had six cocktails at a local bar before the collision that killed Lilly Thornburgh. The accident happened at around 11:50 p.m. on a Friday.

Another grim accident reportedly involving alcohol near Longview resulted in the deaths of a 5-month-old boy and a 2-year-old boy, both children to the driver, Mercedes D. Cole, 24, of Longview. Hayden Matthew Malone, 21, of Tyler, is being charged with four counts of intoxication assault with a vehicle and two counts of intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle. The accident happened at around 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday.

In 2021, Tyler police spokesman Andy Erbaugh said the department arrested 317 people for driving while impaired. There were also three intoxicated assaults and one intoxicated manslaughter, and they worked 25 DWI crashes.

“We always know the root of the problem is the choices that people make when they drink or take drugs and get behind the wheel,” Erbaugh said.

Gregg County data obtained from the Texas Department of Transportation Crash Records Information System Query, revealed in 2019 there were nine crashes involving driving under the influence of drugs and driving while intoxicated. In 2020, that number decreased by one, totaling eight crashes involving driving under the influence of drugs and driving while intoxicated. In 2021, total crashes involving driving under the influence of drugs and driving while intoxicated increased to 12.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) released data Tuesday that showed the near-record total of 176 fatal crashes and 196 deaths in the Tyler District are attributed to several contributing factors, from highest percentage to lowest, being failure to drive in a single lane, unsafe speed, pedestrian failed to yield right of way to vehicle, wrong side, or not passing, and failed to control speed. 

The Tyler District, which includes Anderson, Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt and Wood Counties, also provided a vehicle traffic crash overview, in which there were 33 DUI-related fatalities in 2021. The figure is 14 fewer than in 2020. While some numbers dropped or stayed the same from the previous year, some factors including “unrestrained occupants”, “pedestrian fatalities” and “distracted driver” fatalities rose sharply in 2021.