Former UA Student Sentenced To One Year In Prison 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This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated.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.

John Stuart DeSelms

DELAWARE COUNTY, OKLA. (KFSM) – The former University of Arkansas student who drove drunk in a boat crash that killed two classmates last year was sentenced on Tuesday (Dec. 30) to one year in an Oklahoma prison, court records show.

John DeSelms, who pleaded guilty in August to two counts of first-degree manslaughter, will be allowed to stay at his home in Tulsa until a prison bed opens up at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center south of Oklahoma City near Purcell, said Kenny Wright, the district attorney-elect for Delaware and Ottawa counties.

DeSelms will not be required to wear an ankle bracelet while awaiting bed space at Lexington, Wright said. Bed space normally becomes available in two to three weeks, he said, but sometimes isn’t available for a month or more.

The time that DeSelms spends at home awaiting a prison bed will not count toward his one-year sentence. However, DeSelms probably will spend only 11 months in prison because convicts are eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of their term, the prosecutor said.

All convicted felons in Oklahoma are processed through Lexington for evaluation before being sent to other state Department of Corrections facilities, but the judge recommended that DeSelms serve his entire term at Lexington, Wright said.

DeSelms was sentenced in Delaware County District Court before Judge Robert Haney.

In addition to serving a year in prison, DeSelms received a nine-year suspended sentence on the first manslaughter count and a five-year suspended sentence on the second count, records show. He also has been ordered to pay more than $20,000 in fines and court costs.

Also, DeSelms was ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution to Dr. Patrick Lester, a radiologist whose unoccupied 96-foot, $1 million houseboat was damaged in the incident when the ski boat that DeSelms was driving slammed into it, Wright said. The houseboat was insured, but Lester incurred some travel expenses and other costs after the wreck and also suffered the loss of some uninsured property on the boat, the prosecutor said.

Winston Connor, DeSelms’ lawyer, said the former Arkansas student is taking responsibility for his actions.

“This whole thing is a complete tragedy,” he told 5NEWS last summer. “There’s permanent loss on all sides.”

DeSelms remained out of jail on $25,000 bond while awaiting his sentence, according to jail records.

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, Oklahoma.

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 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 Lester’s 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.

To view the sentencing order, click here. 


  • Fed Up

    What, one year? His drug and alcohol abuse along with carelessness and negligence caused the deaths of two individuals, so why the light sentence? Who in power is he kin to?

  • bobreal

    Do You think that is LONG ENOUGH to teach DON’T DRINK THEN TRY TO OPRATE A BOAT?? If he gets BIG MAC his cellmates will have fun teaching him how to spell “RUN”..
    Bend over and spread Your CHEEKS…

  • Kelly Scott Fibromyalgia 69

    Drugs and alcohol don’t have to be done to have a good time. Two innocent people lost their lives over this stupid beer and drugs.

  • the Goddess

    I’m so torn on this one. If this were my child killed, I’d be, throw the book at him!!! But as the mother of a 19 yo son in college, I can certainly understand the stupid mistakes kids make (I made my share too) – most of us are very lucky our mistakes aren’t LIFE altering. But that’s never a guarantee, and kids don’t understand the ramifications and consequences. They should, they need too…but you know how it is. I’m sure this kid is an all around good kid, with what was a bright future ahead of him. I hate to see him thrown in jail, with harden criminals. Growing up, I had two good friends that made bad choices (shoplifting), and came out of Pine Bluff WAY worse than they went in. I also know he must be punished for what he did. Just a sad deal around. I try to use these situations as learning tools for my boys. I sure hope I’m never on either side of this.

  • Frustrated

    Our system is so backwards an we are forever screwed. He’s getting away with murder. I guess it’s OK to kill a human. The laws are so wrong. God help us!!!!

Comments are closed.