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Tyler man who killed teen in Lake Palestine boat crash sentenced to life in prison

Jurors deliberated for about four hours before reaching their verdict.

TYLER, Texas — A Tyler man who struck and killed a 14-year-old boy with a boat on Lake Palestine nearly three years ago has been sentenced to life in prison. 

Jeffrey Joe Hampton, 33, of Tyler, pleaded guilty last week to manslaughter for striking and killing Roberto "Carlos" Bermejo on June 2, 2019 with a bass boat on Lake Palestine.

Jurors deliberated for about four hours Thursday before reaching their verdict. The jury also determined the boat was used as a deadly weapon.

Hampton asked for a jury trial to determine his punishment in the sentencing phase. He faced five to 99 years or life in prison.

Over Tuesday and Wednesday, various witnesses said Hampton was driving the boat recklessly and while intoxicated prior to the boat crash. Jurors heard from Carlos' mother and sister as well as Hampton who took the witness stand for himself.

In closing statements, Smith County Assistant District Attorney Noah Coltman said Hampton has had every opportunity for rehabilitation, including three previous convictions, probations and prison time.

"He didn't want it, and a 14-year-old boy paid the price," Coltman said.

Carlos wasn't just a son to his mother. He was her right hand, creating budgets and helping in whatever he could, Coltman said. He was his sister's other half, favorite dance partner and secret holder. 

Smith County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Anderson said Hampton's boat was capable of killing nine people. 

Hampton operated the boat recklessly all day long on June 2, 2019. By his own omission, he was highly intoxicated despite being on probation. Hampton made a series of intentional decisions before that crash, Anderson told the jury.

Hampton's attorney Bobby Mims said the world is filled with chaos and there was chaos on the lake that day. He encouraged the jurors to have forgiveness and mercy, saying that Jesus and God forgives but the state of Texas never forgets. Mims called a life sentence “savage.”

Hampton's other attorney Mishae Boren asked the jury to serve justice through their verdict. 

"We're not asking you for a certain number. You have a job. We don't want that job. We're placing him in your hands," Boren said.


On June 2, 2019, Carlos' mother Judith Hernandez and three of her kids were invited to come to Lake Palestine and Carlos was the most excited to go swimming with friends.

He had just finished the eighth grade at Moore Middle School in Tyler. He wanted to run an animal shelter when he grew up. He loved dogs, chickens, hamsters and all kinds of animals. 

Hernandez recalled seeing a boat heading toward the pier and children. 

She began yelling to get Carlos' attention and many "horrible things" happened after that. She ran over to see the impact of the crash, and as she looked further she saw her son's body floating in the water. 

"As I was running, I felt like I was in a dream. I just kept thinking I have to wake up. I opened my eyes and people were still screaming," Hernandez said. 

She saw a man holding her son in his arms. She remembered trying to not look at her son's head or face after the crash. She had to leave him because her daughters needed her in those moments, Hernandez said. 

When the boat crashed into the dock, Carlos was holding on to his younger sister in his arms. He was like a father figure to the toddler, and he helped his mother out frequently. 

Nobody ever talked poorly about Carlos and he helped others in many ways, such as holding doors open for the elderly and mowing lawns, Hernandez said.

Hernandez said her family lost everything because of the crash that killed her son.

"Not only did my son die, but I feel like I died as well. My children have been in therapy, had panic and anxiety attacks. Before this we were happy," she said. "Everything is loneliness and sadness."

When he took the stand Wednesday, Hampton said he was "highly intoxicated" when driving and crashing the boat. He testified he has a drinking problem and he uses alcohol as an “escape.”

He said there's not anything that he could say to Carlos' family. 

"I just wish they could find it in their hearts to forgive me so that they can have peace," Hampton said. 

In tears, Hampton said, "I'm sorry" and "I deserve to get punished for what I did." He agreed with his lawyer that his actions on the boat were reckless.

RELATED: Closing arguments to begin Thursday for man who fatally struck teen with boat at Lake Palestine

RELATED: Testimony: Tyler man who fatally struck teen with boat at Lake Palestine drove recklessly, while intoxicated

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