Woodsboro man escapes manslaughter charge in 2012 wreck

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Aug. 20, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.
Updated Aug. 20, 2014 at 10:41 p.m.

Leon Buff was just trying to drive a load of cabinetry from Corpus Christi to College Station for his boss.

Now, almost two years later, a case has ended for the man charged with causing the road rage wreck that cut the father of two's work trip and life short.

Donald Terrell Starr, 56, of Woodsboro, pleaded no contest earlier this week to accident involving injury or death.

He was sentenced to 10 years probation and fined $2,500.

In exchange, the state dismissed his manslaughter charge stemming from the same Sept. 4, 2012, crash on U.S. Highway 77 in Refugio County.

"The stronger case was the accident involving personal injury or death, and we agreed to that after discussing the facts of the case with the victim's family," Refugio County Assistant District Attorney Ray Hardy said Wednesday.

When Buff's boss, Jim Kollaja, learned of the deal, he immediately said, "You've got to be kidding me - unbelievable."

Buff was a driver for Imperial Mill & Fixtures Inc. for six years.

He'd probably made the trip to College Station seven times before he left around lunchtime the day of his death.

"He was the kind of guy that I could discipline and correct him about something, and he would make me feel good about it afterward," Kollaja, 62, said.

Road rage is listed as one of the contributing factors in a Department of Public Safety crash report.

Buff, 51, of Corpus Christi, was traveling north in a 2006 white Dodge Ram towing a 2004 black utility trailer.

He was behind a tractor-trailer, driven by Walid Firas Hmeidan, 29, and a maroon Ford F-150, driven by Starr.

Starr slowed to turn right from the outside lane without signaling and thought Hmeidan was too close.

The two argued, and Starr pursued Hmeidan, passing and cutting him off, which forced him to stop the tractor-trailer on the roadway.

Buff hit his breaks but not soon enough.

His truck's cab hit the right hand corner of the tractor-trailer before rolling into the grass and stopping at a fence.

Buff died instantly, and Starr fled the scene, according to the report.

"The DPS asked me, 'Well, do you want us to go notify his family?' And first, I said, 'yes.' Then, right away, I just said, 'No, no, I have to do this,'" Kollaja said. "He was an innocent victim."

Kollaja is considering suing Starr in civil court to recoup damages.

He has been denied access to photos from the wreck so far.

Imperial Mill & Fixtures Inc., which had been family-owned for 61 years, went out of business in February, partly because of the crash.

"When you have an employer who has an employee killed on the job, they (insurance companies) don't care whose fault it was. We got our insurance canceled. Nobody wanted to touch us," he said.

Defense Attorney Jerry Clark said they did not decide quickly or hastily to resolve the case this way.

"Mr. Starr has never been in trouble a day in his life. He's a very well-respected person," Clark said of how his client coaches and volunteers. "This wasn't a case where a career criminal intentionally did something very bad."



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