UA Student Pleads Guilty To Manslaughter In Deadly Boat Crash

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DELAWARE COUNTY, OKLA. (KFSM) – The University of Arkansas student who drove drunk in a boat crash that killed two classmates last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of first-degree manslaughter, according to his attorney.

John Stuart DeSelms is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 29. He may receive between four years and life in prison for each charge, said Winston Connor, DeSelms’ lawyer.

Connor said the student always planned to plead guilty and is taking responsibility for his actions. No sentence would be favorable, but DeSelms’ choice to plead guilty may lead to a lesser sentence, Connor said.

“This whole thing is a complete tragedy,” he said. “There’s permanent loss on all sides.”

DeSelms remains out of jail on $25,000 bond while awaiting his sentence, according to jail records. He pleaded not guilty last year to manslaughter charges in Delaware County. Not guilty pleas are common at arraignments in order to allow a case to proceed through the court system.

The parents of 21-year-old Rachel Swetnam, who was killed in the boat crash, reached an undisclosed civil settlement with DeSelms in May. They had filed a civil lawsuit against the student seeking more than $10,000 in damages, court records show.

The fatal wreck occurred in May 2013 on Grand Lake in Delaware County, Okla.

Swetnam was killed by accidental blunt force trauma to the head and neck, while William “Trey” Varner III died of accidental blunt force trauma to the head, according the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Delaware County District Attorney filed two manslaughter charges against DeSelms in September in connection with the fatal crash after the suspect allegedly admitted to drinking heavily and taking drugs prior to the wreck.

After charges were filed in September concerning the May boat crash, DeSelms was booked into jail in Delaware County and bonded out the next morning. Each manslaughter charge is punishable by imprisonment for four years to life, a fine or up to $10,000 or both.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol released an investigation report about a week after the May 14 deadly boat crash. The report states John DeSelms was arrested on suspicion of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs and alcohol after the 22-foot-long ski boat he was driving smashed into a docked, unoccupied houseboat at a marina on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.

While being treated at a nearby hospital, DeSelms told investigators he had consumed about 10 beers, one shot of tequila and an anti-depressant that was not prescribed to him before the crash. He also admitted to using marijuana two days earlier, according to the investigation report.