Halsell is a veteran of five Space Shuttle missions (each of which earned him NASA Space Flight Medal). After the 2003 Columbia accident, he led the NASA Return to Flight planning team, responsible for converting the recommendations of the accident investigation board into shuttle program actions that resulted in the resumption of missions in 2005. He worked at Star City in Russia for a time as a NASA coordinator in 1998.
The astronaut is charged with murder after an accident on US Highway 82, in Tuscaloosa county, Alabama.
Pernell James of Brent, Alabama, father of the two deceased girls, 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler, was some 20 minutes from home, when Halsell's car, traveling "at a very high rate of speed" rear-ended the family's car, causing the vehicle to flip off the road. The collision was so powerful that the girls, neither of whom were wearing seat-belts, were ejected from the car.
According to local newspaper Tuscaloosa News, police officers found Halsell's "speech was slurred, eyes were dilated, clothes disheveled and he was unstable on his feet and smelled of alcohol."
"Halsell was under the influence of alcohol and said he didn't remember leaving the hotel. Halsell said he will have to figure out what happened in the crash because he didn't know," an officer stated.
According to reports, the police reportedly found an empty package of sleeping pills and an empty wine bottle after a search of a motel room where Halsell stayed the night before the crash.
Halsell has been arrested and released on $150,000 bail.
According to court documents, Halsell never mentioned his role in the US space program to officers, and a police spokesman, Reginal King, said the officers did not realize the driver who caused the accident was an astronaut until seeing news reports about the wreck.
According to the mayor of Brent, local county and city governments are collecting monetary donations to help the family with funeral expenses and other needs.