LUBBOCK, Texas — More than two years since 29-year-old Haley Steele was killed in an April 2020 car crash in Lubbock County, Haley’s mother is fighting to bring the intoxicated driver back to Lubbock to stand trial.
Tanner Lermon, 21, was a top-ten most wanted fugitive in Texas who was charged with manslaughter for Steele’s death. Blood tests found marijuana and methamphetamines in his system at the time of the crash. Officials for Lubbock County said flaws in the criminal justice system stalled their opportunity to prosecute him.
Lermon was arrested on the scene of the crash in the morning of April 30, 2020 for possession of illegal substances. He served time and was released less than seven months later in October – long before the state’s toxicology report revealed that he was intoxicated while driving, the basis for a separate manslaughter charge.
Irwin said Texas Highway Patrol told her that Lermon’s toxicology results would take days to get back to them. Instead, it took 13 months.
Lubbock County did not learn that Lermon was intoxicated until May 2021 due to Texas’ one toxicology lab suffering a major pandemic-driven backlog. A Lubbock grand jury indicted Lermon for manslaughter after another seven months in December 2021, 20 months after Haley’s death.
In the meantime, Lermon was released from custody and spent the following months fleeing from several other felony charges, including aggravated assault and illegal firearm possession. Lubbock County was waiting on his arrest warrant for manslaughter to be served.
He was finally arrested for aggravated robbery in Hudspeth County on December 23, 2021. In June, he was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
But all the while, Lubbock County had no idea he was in custody. The Texas Department of Public Safety even placed Lermon on the Top Ten Most Wanted list in July, long after he had been arrested and sentenced for other felonies. He was only removed from that list on Monday, August 29.
“I was furious, dumbfounded, frustrated, mad, all of the above,” Ms. Irwin said. “Because obviously he was there the whole time.”
“I’ve been chasing this guy all over West Texas,” Lubbock County Assistant District Attorney Tom Brummett said. “What was supposed to happen didn’t happen.”
Lermon was transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Sanchez Unit in El Paso after his sentencing. Brummett said Hudspeth County should have known that he had an active manslaughter warrant and referred him to Lubbock County before transferring him.
Brummett tells KAMC News he is now working with TDCJ to arrange for Lermon to stand trial for manslaughter in Lubbock.
“He’s not breathing free air for a long time,” Brummett said, noting it is only a matter of whether Lermon is in custody through TDCJ or Lubbock County.
Irwin is hopeful Lermon’s manslaughter charge will lengthen his current sentence, although she is worried the multiple charges may be grouped or served concurrently. She says the mistakes in the system have failed her daughter’s case.
“Why was this so hard? Why was nobody looking? Why was nobody taking the time? Why didn’t Hudspeth county look? You know, where did it fall through the cracks?,” she said. “I think the entire state of Texas has dropped the ball.”