Trial testimony begins for Travis Collins
Photo by Debby Schamber: Travis Collins, 30, of Orange, takes a break in between court testimony. He is charged with two counts of intoxication manslaughter for the May 2015 deaths of Riley and Emily Portie. He has already pleaded guilty and a jury will decide his punishment.
By Debby Schamber
For the Record
The trial of Travis Obrian Collins, 30, of Orange began Monday with jury selection after he previously entered the plea of guilty on two counts of intoxication manslaughter before 128th District Court Judge Courtney Arkeen for the May 2015 deaths of Riley and Emily Portie.
Intoxication manslaughter is a second degree felony and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Assistant District Phillip Smith could request the sentence be enhanced by certifying the vehicle as a deadly weapon which could result in a longer prison sentence for Collins.
The charges stem from an incident when officers were called to a wreck scene near the intersections of 12th and West Park Streets.
Mary McKenna, who was the first to take the stand, testified she saw a white Dodge 2500 pickup truck traveling at a high rate of speed and feared for her life. The driver of the pickup truck also ran two stop signs. However, she did not see who was driving the pickup truck or the wreck.
The owner of the pickup, Moses Samuel, was in the passenger seat of the pickup truck when the wreck occurred. He stated he and Collins had gone to Louisiana to purchase liquor and cigarettes. They had also stopped at a large gathering. A few hours later was when the wreck occurred. Samuel was in the front seat of the pickup truck at the time and was not driving because he claims he “did not know the area.” When Collins was driving recklessly, he testified he told Collins to slow down and Collins responded by telling him,”I’ve got this.”
As a result of the wreck, the pickup truck was totaled, according to testimony.
Cedrick Decleout testified he was walking along 12th Street when the wreck occurred. He said the motorcycle drove over the railroad tracks and then the pickup truck was traveling at a high rate of speed over the tracks and became ariborne before landing on top of the motorcycle. Collins and the passenger exited the pickup truck. Two other men exited the truck, but “ran off.” Collins came out of the pickup truck repeatedly asking, “What did I do?”
A neighbor, Shatonya Freeman, was about to eat dinner with her family when she heard the crash. The nursing student ran outside and told her husband to call 9-1-1. Freeman began to cry as she described the scene. Her tears were the first of many to come during the trial on Tuesday.
Freeman said Riley Portie and Emily Portie were trapped under the truck and it “looked like the motorcycle was part of the truck and coming out of the grill.”
She checked each for a sign of life. Both had a faint pulse. Emily Portie slightly raised her head and attempted to move. But, neither was able to respond to her questions. Freeman concluded by stating the wreck is painfully forever etched in her memory and causes her a great deal of grief.
Collins’ defense attorney, Luro C. Taylor, concluded her questioning by calling her a “hero” and thanking her for her service.
Also presented into evidence was a video from the nearby pharmacy. There were two views of the incident recorded.
Jana Goins, an Orange Police Officer, took the stand and testified of the events on the day of the wreck. She was wearing a body camera and the video was played for the jury. When Goins arrived at the scene, she was given the task of transporting Collins to the local area hospital. In the video, Collins is heard being combative and crying,” Let me out.” While the video played, Collins sat at the defendants table and sobbed while wiping away tears.
Goins testified Collins calmed down at the hospital and eventually, the handcuffs were removed. However, he refused to give a blood sample and allow X-rays. Later a warrant was obtained and a blood sample was taken. His blood alcohol level was determined to be 0.204 which is two and a half times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
Goins described Collins’ demeanor at the hospital as “active passive aggressive.” She repeatedly informed Collins why he was there and he was in denial. She also testified she smelled an odor of an unknown alcoholic beverage omitting from him.
He was later transported to the Orange County jail and charges were filed.
Eric Ellison, of the Orange Police Department, testified he was also at the wreck scene. He stated according to the gouge marks on the pavement, the vehicles traveled about 250 feet before coming to a stop. It took emergency personnel about an hour to remove the pickup truck off of the Porties and their motorcycle.
Ellison was tasked with notifying next of kin. He went to their house and found their 18-year-old son, Kazzie Portie, home alone. The pair set about calling family members and preparing for graduation the following Saturday.
“I told him we’re going to get through this,” Ellison said.
Kazzie Portie did not want to let his parents down, but knew this walk across the stage would be difficult. Ellison promised Kazzie he would be there to support him. As the young graduate walked to the end of the stage, they embraced. The heartfelt moment was shared all over the world and has remained in the hearts of many including Ellison who is still close to Kazzie Portie.
Blake Hennigan took the stand and talked about the Porties and his family. The blended family with five sons was held together with the love Riley and Emily Portie provided.
“These were not just some 50-year-old individuals, both were the protectors of our family,” Hennigan said.
Emily Portie, who was fighting cancer herself, shared a book with her son, “Resilience” by Elizabeth Edwards. The well worn book was present in the court room and Hennigan spoke of it during his testimony.
Hennigan concluded by stating, “Our loss is permanent.” He added, Collins family will get to visit with him, but that choice has been taken from them. He also directed a comment to Collins.
“Travis, my biggest disappointment was that you never reached out and apologized,” Hennigan said.
Next to take the stand was Kazzie Portie.
“They showed unconditional love to each and every one of us,” Kazzie Portie said.
He added, when Ellison came to his door to inform him of the wreck it “shattered” the life as he knew it. He was about to graduate high school and had already planned to attend Lamar where he would study chemical engineering. But, those dreams were quickly taken away. He was forced to get a job in construction to pay the bills. He also attended the fire academy where he trained to be a firefighter. He is now a firefighter in Beaumont.
Taylor asked him if the trial gave him closure.
“Closure wasn’t something I found in this trial, but within myself,” Kazzie Portie responded.
Tears from the Portie family flowed as he continued on the stand and as he described his parents and the photos of them during their life together was entered into evidence.
“Great testimony from the family gives the jury perspective of truly what Travis Collins took from this family and society in general,” said Kathy Schexnaider-Bell of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “The jury’s job is justice and to give the opportunity to send a message to Orange County citizens that we won’t condone this violent crime.”
Trial testimony will resume 9 a.m. Wednesday. After the state rest, the defense will begin calling their witnesses. When that process is complete, it will then go to the jury to decide Collins’ punishment.
Travis Obrian Collins, 30, of Orange, entered the plea of guilty Thursday on two counts of intoxication manslaughter before 128th District Court Judge Courtney Arkeen for the May 2015 deaths of Riley and Emily Portie.
Jury selection will begin July 26 and they will determine his fate. Intoxication manslaughter is a second degree felony and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Assistant District Phillip Smith could request the sentence be enhanced by certifying the vehicle as a deadly weapon which could result in a longer prison sentence for Collins.
The charges stem from an incident when officers were called to a wreck scene near the intersections of 12th and Park Streets. When officers arrived they observed a white Dodge 2500 pickup truck on top of a 2011 Harley Davidson motorcycle. The occupants of the motorcycle, Riley Portie, 54, and his 50-year-old wife, Emily, were crushed under the pickup truck. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
Skid marks and gouges in the roadway indicated both vehicles were headed west on Park Street at the Rail Road Crossing. The truck collided with the motorcycle on the west side of the crossing and both vehicles came to rest near the 12th Street intersection, according to the probable cause affidavit.
The brother of Travis Collins, Gregory Collins, was a passenger in the pickup truck at the time of the wreck. He reported his brother had been driving “really bad” and leading up to the wreck had ran the nearby stop sign at 10th and Park Streets. He further stated Travis Collins drove over the railroad tracks at a high rate of speed and “jumped” the tracks. In addition, Gregory Collins said his brother was “extremely intoxicated” and had been drinking a large amount of alcohol “all day long,” according to the affidavit.
Travis Collins was taken to a nearby hospital where he was medically cleared. He was then transported to the Orange County Jail and charged.
Getting the case to trial was met some challenges. The trial was scheduled to occur in August 2016, but it was put on hold after Collins competency to stand trial became an issue. According to court documents, Collins was interviewed by psychologist Dr. Ray Coxe. Collins stated he has been married since 2008 and dropped out of school in the ninth or tenth grade. For the past four years he has worked as a box prepper in light industry at a local refinery. He stated he also worked in the fast food industry but was fired because of conflicts with the law.
It was the opinion of the doctor, the results of the evaluation show there was ample clinical evidence to raise a challenge to the defendant’s competence to proceed at that time. However, he also stated the limitation of the evaluation is based solely on the impressions and information presented by Collins and his wife without any school or mental health records to back up their claims.
As a result of the examination, Collins was committed to the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon for observation and/or treatment. Upon further examination, doctors determined he was competent to stand trial.
“My family and I want a fair trial and justice to be served for such a senseless and avoidable incident,” said Kazzie Portie, son of Riley and Emily Portie.