PASCAGOULA -- An Ocean Springs man said he and his girlfriend had been on a two-day drinking binge and were fighting over a cellphone when he lost control of his car and hit a telephone pole. The crash killed his girlfriend.
William David Aust, 57, said he and Jennifer Courtney, 36, had used cocaine two days prior to the June 21, 2014, crash. For the crime of felony DUI causing death, Circuit Judge Dale Harkey on Friday sentenced Aust to 25 years in prison, with 12 years to serve and five years of reporting for post-release supervision. In addition, the judge ordered him to wear an alcohol monitor for two years of post-release supervision and fined him $5,000.
Aust had driving away after the crash but Ocean Springs police arrested him while he was parked outside a bar on U.S. 90, Courtney dead in the seat beside him.
Aust told the judge he and Courtney were fussing over a cellphone. When she refused to hand it to him, he reached for it on the passenger-side floorboard and ran off the road.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Aust said, "I'd just like to apologize for the grief I caused both families." He said he's clean and sober now.
Prior to his sentencing, one of Courtney's young daughters sobbed as she told how the loss of her mother has affected her.
"Words can't describe the way I feel about everything, but at least I know that maybe I am now able to forgive him for what he's done," she said. "I sometimes cry myself to sleep at night wishing she would talk to me just to tell me how she loves and misses me because the Lord knows I miss her more than anything else in the entire world.
"I'm always going to have this hurt in my heart (from) losing her but she wouldn't want me crying and pouting about everything. She would rather see me happy and laughing around the people that I love."
The child also read a letter her sister, Macey Courtney wrote, which said, in part, "Kids at school talk bad about their parents all the time and I tell them, 'You know, you should not do that 'cause one day they are here and the next day they are not so appreciate what you have now until it is gone.'"
Aust's family, including his mother, Carol Aust, owner of Hartz Chicken in Ocean Springs, and his brother, spoke on his behalf, noting it took a terrible tragedy for him to finally turn his life around. Both said most of Aust's problems were the result of his alcohol and drug use.
Aust was taken into custody immediately after his sentence was handed down.
Assistant District Attorney Kathlyn Van Buskirk prosecuted the case.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence said the work of the Ocean Springs Police Department was crucial.
"I commend OSPD for the investigation they conducted on this case," he said. "Their work made this result possible for the family of Jennifer Courtney. This case is yet another example of the tragedies associated with drinking and driving."