Texas man gets 30 years in prison for deaths of 5 kids after driving into rain-filled ditch

A Houston father was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in prison for the drunken driving deaths of five children, including three of his own, who drowned after he lost control of his car and veered into a rain-swollen ditch.

Chanton Jenkins, 34, was sentenced following a hearing in which the two mothers of his three children who died asked a judge for leniency, saying he was a good man and they didn't hate him for what happened. Jenkins apologized for the children's deaths.

"I failed as a father and I couldn't protect them," he tearfully told the hearing. "I couldn't save them."

Jenkins pleaded guilty to five counts of intoxication manslaughter in May, just before his trial was to start. Prosecutors sought a life sentence. Intoxication manslaughter has a maximum sentence of up to 20 years, but Jenkins faced up to life in prison for each count because of a previous felony conviction and because the vehicle was deemed a deadly weapon.

State District Judge Mary Lou Keel sentenced him to 30 years for each of the counts, which he will serve concurrently. He will be eligible for parole in 15 years.

Jenkins denied he was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Both he and his attorney, Lott Brooks III, blamed the crash on the weather and bad road conditions. Brooks said Jenkins pleaded guilty to spare his family from having to go through a trial.

Prosecutors, however, said tests showed Jenkins had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent at the time of the accident and that even four hours after the crash, he remained near the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Blood tests also revealed Jenkins had PCP and marijuana in his system.

During the sentencing hearing, which began last week and resumed Thursday, Brooks tried to raise doubts about the blood tests. But lab workers testified the results were scientifically sound.

Police said Jenkins was intoxicated and using his cell phone on the afternoon of April 18, 2009, when he lost control of his car, which was carrying seven passengers. The vehicle veered off the road and into the ditch, which had been turned into a raging river by heavy rains that day.

Jenkins, his brother and Jenkins' 10-year-old daughter were able to escape. But five children drowned: Devin Jenkins, 4, Hallie Jenkins, 4, Karrington Jenkins, 1½ and brothers Dreton Thompson, 11, and Malik Barlow, 7. None of the children were wearing seat belts.