A Waco man who killed a single mother last year in a drunken-driving crash apologized to the woman’s family Thursday and said he will live the remainder of his life to help others in hopes her death was not in vain.

Bryce Allen Rushing, 31, who cried throughout Thursday’s 30-minute hearing, pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter in the May 5, 2018, traffic death of Melissa Rose, a 33-year-old mother of a 13-year-old girl.

Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court accepted Rushing’s plea agreement and sentenced him to eight years in prison after assuring that Rose’s family approved of the deal. The courtroom was filled with family members on both sides of the case, many of whom also cried during emotional victim-impact statements from Rose’s mother, Dolores Kavey, and stepmother, Kathy Rose.

In an unusual turn, Rushing’s attorney, Jessi Freud, asked Johnson if Rushing could address Rose’s family after the women completed their statements. Rushing took the stand, immediately broke down again and apologized repeatedly to the Rose family.

Rose, a certified nursing assistant who worked with hospice care, care of the elderly and with offenders at the Texas Youth Commission facility in Mart, was on her way to see her boyfriend in Dawson when her vehicle collided with Rushing’s pickup at about 11 p.m. on State Highway 31 near Axtell.

Rushing had served as a bartender at a wedding in Axtell and was on his way back to Waco. However, he was drunk and driving his truck the wrong direction on the divided highway. Rose’s vehicle burst into flames after the head-on collision, officials said.

Rose was killed, and Rushing suffered a compound fracture of his left leg. A blood draw at the hospital revealed his blood-alcohol content was 0.136%, more than the 0.08% level for intoxication.

Officers wrote in reports that Rushing told them he had five to six “shots” before deciding to drive home. After telling them that, Rushing became uncooperative and refused to answer questions, an officer wrote in arrest documents.

In court Thursday, Rushing was emotional, contrite and apologetic. It has happened before, but defendants addressing victims’ families during sentencing hearings is rare. Climbing into the witness stand to deliver his statement, Rushing began by apologizing for his actions and telling the Rose family he prays for them every night.

He said he wants to devote the rest of his life to helping others, to talk to school kids and others about the dangers of drunken driving and to live his life once he is freed from prison in a manner that will honor Rose “so her death is not in vain.”

He said he knows his actions are unforgivable, but he prays Rose’s family will be able to forgive him some day.

Kavey told the court and Rushing that her daughter was a wonderful mother who lived to help others and who touched many lives during her short time. She said her daughter’s sudden death robbed her and others of being able to say goodbye to her, saying she last talked to her a few hours before her death.

“I don’t know why her life was cut short,” Kavey said. “I know God has a plan for all of us. My faith tells me that. My faith also tells me to forgive you. I’m not at that point yet, but I hope I’ll get there one day.”

She asked Rushing to ask for God’s forgiveness, saying God is the only one who can truly judge him. She stopped, looked at Judge Johnson and said, “no offense.” He smiled and said, “none taken.”

Rushing’s attorney, Jessi Freud, said Rushing is heartbroken for Rose’s family and their tremendous loss.

“After hearing Bryce’s public, heartfelt apology this morning, we hope that Ms. Rose’s family knows the deep regret and remorse Bryce has felt for his actions every day since this happened and will continue to feel every day for the rest of his life,” Freud said. “Bryce and his family pray for the Rose family every day and hope that through everyone’s grief, now the healing can begin.”

Rushing must serve about a year in prison before he can be considered for parole. Parole eligibility does not guarantee his release.

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