LANCASTER – Tommie Lee Cole will spend 30 years to life in prison for the 2012 drunk driving crash that killed two local Walmart workers on their way home from work.
On Feb. 26, 2012, Beau Fluker and Jeffrey Gilstrap were driving home after a late-night work shift at the West Lancaster Walmart, when they were broadsided by Cole’s speeding vehicle at the intersection of Avenue J and 20th Street West. The victims’ vehicle flipped into the air and came down on a fire hydrant, killing both men at the scene.
Cole admitted to drinking several beers, a shot of whiskey, and a shot of tequila before getting behind the wheel, and he told detectives that he was trying to “beat the yellow” at the time of the crash.
A day before the second anniversary of the fatal crash, a jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding Cole guilty of two counts of second degree murder, two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one count of DUI causing bodily injury, and one count of driving with a .08 percent blood-alcohol level or more and causing injury. (Read more here.)
Cole, 26, was sentenced Friday, Feb. 28, in an Antelope Valley courtroom. During the sentencing hearing, nine family members and close friends expressed their grief and anguish over losing Beau and Jeffrey.
One of the most compelling statements came from 13-year-old Stephen Gilstrap, who spoke of the pain of losing his big brother and protector. Jeffrey Gilstrap became a school volunteer to protect his little brother from relentless bullying at school, but after Jeffrey died, the bullying got worse, Stephen said.
Stephen, who is now home-schooled, also spoke about watching his mother grieve her oldest son.
“She used to cry every night just thinking about it,” Stephen said. (Read Stephen’s victim impact statement here.)
Beau Fluker’s mom, Leona Williams, said she could not forgive Cole because he appeared to have no remorse for taking her son’s life.
“I’m gonna rest just a little bit easier knowing that Beau and Jeffrey will get their justice,” Williams said.
Nicolas Nahin spoke about how his best friend, Jeffrey Gilstrap, had taken him in without asking for a penny in return. Cole would still be able to correspond with his family while behind bars, but Jeffrey was gone forever, Nahin said.
“Someday I will try to forgive, but right now it’s too soon,” Nahin said.
“I really want [Tommie] to get the full weight of what he did, but I really don’t think he has,” Jeffrey’s mother, Linda Gilstrap said.
Cole, who has been jailed since the 2012 crash, was sentenced Friday to serve two consecutive terms of 15 years to life in prison. He was also given credit for 734 days in jail.
“You will have plenty of time to think about it, and I hope that one day you will understand the gravity of your actions,” Judge Kathleen Blanchard told Cole.
A restitution hearing on the case is set for March 28.
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