A Friendswood woman convicted in the wreck that killed a rookie Pearland police officer had long battled alcohol abuse, her mother told jurors Tuesday afternoon.
“We encouraged her to join a program at our church, as well as another church’s,” Karen Godeau said on the stand in 149th District Judge Terri Holder’s courtroom. “I even felt like her warden at one point, having to search through her stuff.”
A Brazoria County jury will return today to decide how long Amber Willemsen, 40, should spend in prison for causing the wreck that killed Pearland Police Officer Endy Ekpanya last year. The same jury took about two hours Tuesday morning to find Willemsen guilty of intoxication manslaughter. She faces five to 99 years for the first-degree felony.
Willemsen was driving on the wrong side of East Broadway Street near Liberty Drive in June 2016 when her car collided head-on with Ekpanya’s patrol vehicle, evidence showed.
Willemsen’s blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit at the time of the crash, prosecutors said.
Ekpanya, who later died at a Houston hospital, was responding to a nonemergency call when Willemsen’s car hit his.
Four witnesses called by District Attorney Jeri Yenne during the punishment phase illustrated Willemsen’s recurring alcohol-related offenses.
“You will hear from family members who will tell you she had every opportunity to change and didn’t,” Yenne said.
Godeau discovered her daughter’s struggle with alcohol in 2012, she told jurors. The former assistant principal’s mother hung up on her daughter when Willemsen called from the hospital about a week after the crash.
“I said, ‘Dear God, a man lost his life,’ and I didn’t want to hear it, and then I hung up,” Godeau said.
Friendswood Police Officer Sgt. Anthony Aprile testified about a December 2011 drunken driving charge against Willemsen. The officer pulled Willemsen over after witnessing her vehicle cross three lanes of traffic, he said.
“I was thinking I was about to be hit,” Aprile said. “When I made contact with her, I noticed a strong odor of alcohol, red, watery eyes and thick, slurred speech.”
Willemsen was assigned to a special substance-abuse program after reportedly violating the terms of her probation with a failed Breathalyzer test, Harris County probation officer Delisha Anthony testified.
Carmen Waldron also testified about a June 2015 run-in with Willemsen, where the 40-year-old hit the back of her vehicle twice before taking off down the road and crashing into a wall, she said.
“I went up to the door and talked with her,” Waldron said. “I smelled the alcohol, and her eyes were glassy and her speech was slurred.”
Jurors watched video footage Waldron had taken of both her vehicle and Willemsen’s after the wreck.
Willemsen’s trial will resume at 9 a.m. today in Holder’s courtroom at the Brazoria County Courthouse.