Crimetracker: Curtis Harper: Guilty of killing Soto, Thornell, unborn child

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A jury has convicted Curtis Harper of vehicular homicide stemming from the hit and run crash that killed Nelson Soto, Chasity Thornell, and her unborn child in May of last year. Harper was found guilty all charges.

The victims' families exchanged smiles and handshakes as Harper's family broke into tears while the verdict was being read. Harper, meanwhile, betrayed little emotion as the court discussed a second charged of DUI.

"I'm relieved. I think we got justice for Chasity and her baby girl," said Chasity's grandma Sue Renfro.

Harper faced three counts each of vehicular homicide by intoxication and vehicular homicide by reckless endangerment. He's was also charged with two counts of DUI, and one count each of tampering with evidence, failing to render aid after an accident and reckless endangerment.

It was early May 30th of last year when 24-year-old Chasity Thornell, who was seven months pregnant, drove to help a friend whose car had stalled near the intersection of Washington Pike and Atoka Lane in North Knoxville.

Nelson Soto, who lived nearby, brought them gasoline. As Thornell was hugging him to say thanks, police say Curtis Harper ran into them and kept going. Thornell, her unborn daughter and Soto didn't survive.

"He's going to pay for what he did. He's going to pay for taking my dad away," said Soto's daughter Angela Soto.

Police reported they found pieces of Harper's 2004 Ford Explorer at the scene of the crash, along with traces of blood, skin and hair on the car.

Several days later, Harper turned himself in.

On Monday, Curtis Harper took the stand for the first time, recounting the day of the wreck that killed Soto, Thornell, and her baby.

Harper recounted the day, saying he had his first drink around dinner. He bought a 2-shot bottle of liquor to pour into a "Big Gulp" soda cup from a gas station.

Later he ran errands, then he joined friends at The Hill. Harper said he shared one 48 ounce pitcher of beer with two others... drinking two to two and half cups himself.

"I was feeling fine. I wasn't feeling impaired at all," said Harper about when he left the bar.

Through all of his testimony, Harper remained clear, confident and emotionless... even as he laid out the moments of the crash.

Harper recalled driving down Washington Pike at the speed limit of 35 with low beams on even though lighting was sparse.

"I looked up and saw a car, I swerved left and I heard a loud crash. I thought I hit the car," said Harper.

Harper said it wasn't until the next morning when a friend called that he learned he'd killed three people.

"I was really scared then," said Harper.

Harper said he wiped down the car with a sponge and a hose to get rid of the blood, afraid he'd get into trouble.

Civil cases are also pending. The Thornell and Soto families have filed lawsuits against Harper, his parents and The Hill, which is the bar they say served him too much alcohol.

Harper's sentencing will be June 26th. He faces more than $100,000 in fines and more than 50 years in jail.

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