LUBBOCK, Texas — Gabriel Zerrata, 33, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday after he previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the 2021 crash that took the life of 19-year-old Texas Tech student Jessica Helmers.
The Lubbock Police Department previously said the crash happened around 2:15 a.m. in the intersection of University Avenue and Marsha Sharp Freeway. Helmers was pronounced dead at the scene. Zerrata was taken to University Medical center with moderate injuries.
EverythingLubbock.com previously reported data from Zerrata’s vehicle indicated he was going over 70 mph before the crash. The speed for that section of the road was 30 mph. Investigators determined Helmers had a green light, but Zerrata was supposed to stop at a red light. Crash data from Helmer’s vehicle showed she was going below the speed limit at the time of the crash, according to court records.
An officer was stopped near the intersection at the time and the vehicle’s dashcam captured the crash. Court documents said Zerrata immediately told police he had been drinking at Skooners Grill & Bar. However, after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission contacted the bar, an investigator was told Zerrata had shown up, but workers refused to serve him because he was too drunk. TABC confirmed to EverythingLubbock.com on Thursday that no administrative violations were filed against the bar in connection to the crash.
Helmers’s family filed a lawsuit against Zerrata in the bar back in 2021. Court documents obtained by EverythingLubbock.com on Thursday showed the plaintiffs agreed to drop the suit.
A victim impact statement said one of the friends that was in contact with authorities the night of the crash passed away just six months after Helmers died. The victim impact statement, written by another friend, said they lost her to grief.
“I was missing two bridesmaids at my wedding,” the statement read. “A day I thought I would only cry happy tears; I broke down knowing they couldn’t be standing next to me.”
A statement from Helmers’s sister described her as full of kindness, empathy, love and forgiveness.
“She touched countless lives,” her sister said. She said Helmers overcame many obstacles to get where she was in life, and it was “snuffed out” in an instant.
Another friend who knew Helmers since middle school described her as “the best person” she ever met. She said Helmers didn’t have a mean bone in her body.
“I think about the fact that she lived in a sober living dorm so she could do better for herself, and how she was killed by a drunk driver,” she said. “That part makes me so angry and sick.”
Helmers’s mother said Zerrata took away part of her heart. She said there were no words that could capture the loss, and her family will never be the same. Her mother said Helmers wanted to help people with drug and alcohol addiction.
“She would have helped you if she would have had the chance,” her mom said.
Her mom said she hoped Zerrata can take this time as an opportunity to better himself.
“All I really want is my baby back,” Helmers’s mom said. “A piece of my heart is gone.”