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Tyler man pleads guilty to boat crash that killed teen at Lake Palestine in 2019

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office said Hampton crashed his bass boat when the boy was swimming at Lakeway Harbor on Lake Palestine.

TYLER, Texas — A Tyler man pleaded guilty Thursday to killing a 14-year-old boy by striking the child with a boat while at Lake Palestine in 2019.

Jeffrey Joe Hampton, 34, of Tyler, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the death of Roberto Carlos Bermejo Hernandez on June 2, 2019. He is also charged with accidental boating death.

Hampton entered his guilty plea in the 114th District Court, and then asked for a jury trial to determine his punishment in the sentencing phase.

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office said Hampton crashed his bass boat when the boy was swimming at Lakeway Harbor on Lake Palestine. Hampton left the scene of the crash before officers arrived and was arrested the next day by Texas Parks and Wildlife. 

The trial is set to begin on Monday with jury selection and evidence will be presented Tuesday, according to the Smith County District Attorney's Office. 

Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman said Hampton said he did not use a deadly weapon when committing the offense. 

If it's proven that the boat was a deadly weapon, he would have to serve half of the punishment he receives before becoming eligible for parole. If that fact is proven not true, he will be up for parole after serving a quarter of his sentence, Putman said. 

Roberto, 14, who was often called Carlos or Carlitos by friends and family, attended Douglas Elementary and Moore Middle School. He was set to attend Early College School in fall 2019, where he would be working on his associate’s degree from Tyler Junior College while still in high school. He wanted to become a veterinarian and raise cute dogs, his mom Judith Hernandez said in 2020.

June 2, 2019 was the first time the Hernandez family went to Lake Palestine. His mom said they arrived at the lake at 6:30 p.m. and the accident happened at 8 p.m.

The boy’s mom said the boat came out of nowhere, and Carlos protected his two sisters, Alexa and Irene, from the boat with his body. 

“If I knew that was going to happen, I would never go to that lake,” she said. “But at the same time, I knew that God needed him.”

The Parent-Teacher Association at Moore Middle School paid for a stone in honor of Carlos at the Children’s Park in Tyler.

“During all his school time, he was a role model,” she said. “He was friends with everybody.”

RELATED: Family of Tyler boy killed at Lake Palestine shares story as trial of suspect in death postponed to October

RELATED: Trial set for man accused of killing Tyler teen in boat crash at Lake Palestine

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