Three strikes and you’re out: Liberty County man sentenced to 29 years for DWIs

Stephen Klinger is led away from the Liberty County Courthouse Wednesday to begin his 29-year sentence for habitually drinking and driving. Chad Elmore, bailiff for the 253rd State District Court, is pictured leading Klinger out of the courthouse.

By Vanesa Brashier,

A habitual drunk driver from Liberty County was sentenced to 29 years in prison Wednesday, Jan. 23, by 253rd State District Court Judge Chap Cain. Prior to his trial, Stephen Daniel Klingler, 51, of Rye, pleaded guilty, thereby avoiding a jury trial. He was sentenced by the judge after evidence was presented during the punishment phase.

Klingler was arrested for his third DWI offense in Texas on April 1, 2017, by Liberty County Pct. 2 Deputy Constable John Tucker, who was working for the sheriff’s office.

At that time, Tucker, a rookie deputy, was completing his field training with Capt. Mark Ellington. The pair were on routine patrols in Rye when they encountered Klingler pulled over alongside FM 787 with his vehicle running.

Tucker testified Wednesday that he immediately realized Klingler was intoxicated when he approached and began speaking to him. Feeling uncertain of his abilities to conduct a field sobriety test on Klingler, Tucker called for assistance from State Trooper Preston Gustavsen, who was nearby in Cleveland.

District Attorney Logan Pickett used video surveillance from Tucker’s patrol vehicle to show the judge that Klingler admitted to drinking four Busch beers before getting behind the steering wheel of his vehicle.

“I just want to go home. I can’t do 25 years in prison,” Klingler said in the recording. “I’ll be 75 years old and die in prison.”

He explained to Tucker that he had been to prison twice, serving four years for Aggravated Assault With a Deadly Weapon and four years for a DWI.

“If you knew you were looking at 25 years, why did you get behind the wheel? It’s Busch beers or 25 years,” Tucker said.

Gustavsen testified that Klingler failed a field sobriety test and was arrested. A blood draw warrant proved Klingler was intoxicated, he said.

Brenda Fairchild, the director of pre-trial services for Liberty County, testified that Klingler was placed on her caseload on May 1, 2017.

Pickett asked her if there were certain terms Klingler was supposed to meet in order to be released.

“He wasn’t supposed to drink,” she said.

To monitor Klingler’s drinking after his arrest, a court-ordered breathalyzer device was placed on his vehicle. Later on, he was ordered to wear a device on his ankle that monitored his blood alcohol level.

Klingler initially pleaded guilty to the DWI case in exchange for an 18-year prison sentence. However, he ran before the case was finalized in court.

In closing, Pickett asked the judge to double the 18-year sentence.

“He got a gift of 18 years and ran on us. When you think about it, you might say, ‘Gosh, that’s harsh.’ I am not asking you to double the time, I am asking you to double his parole time. In the very near future, he will be parole eligible,” Pickett said.

Pickett said Klingler proved he would was incapable of making the right decision when faced with an option of alcohol or prison.

“Deputy Tucker nailed it when he said, ‘It’s Busch beers or 25 years.’ Mr. Klingler knew what he was facing and I guess you could say he chose Busch beer,” the district attorney said. “I don’t know what the future holds for Mr. Klingler, but I know what the past tells us about what Mr. Klingler’s future likely holds. If he is willing to take a chance to drink and drive, knowing he is facing 25 years, any sentence you give him is not going to stop that.”

Without calling a single witness, the defense rested its case.

Using a mortality chart to determine the average life expectancy of a man Klingler’s age, Cain said the chart suggests a 51-year-old man can expect to live an additional 28.75 years.

“Knowing that, I am going to assess your punishment at 29 years,” Cain said.

It is likely, however, that Klingler will serve only a fraction of his 29-year sentence given the current parole rate from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Last December, another Liberty County man, Don Earl Jordan, was sentenced to 25 years for his third DWI offense. According to the TDCJ website, Jordan is eligible for parole on Oct. 19, 2021.

“They don’t generally get parole the first time,” Pickett explained.

Klingler, Stephen
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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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