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Former astronaut charged with murder in car wreck that killed 2

| Tuesday, June 7, 2016, 9:36 p.m.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Astronaut James Halsell Jr. seemed the very definition of someone with the right stuff. An Air Force Academy graduate and decorated test pilot, he commanded or piloted five space shuttle missions. NASA turned to him for leadership as it was picking up the pieces after the Columbia disaster in 2003.

Now, a decade after his retirement from the space agency, the 59-year-old Halsell is facing a new test: He is charged with murder after an early morning car wreck Monday killed two young sisters on a lonely stretch of highway in Alabama.

State police said alcohol and speed may have been factors in the crash. The Tuscaloosa News reported that court documents showed troopers said they found an empty package of sleeping pills and an empty wine bottle in a motel room where Halsell had stayed before the crash.

Troopers said a vehicle driven by Halsell collided about 2:50 a.m. with a Ford Fiesta in which 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler were riding. The girls were thrown from the car and died. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Halsell, who lives in Huntsville, was arrested and released from jail on $150,000 bond. Court records weren't available Tuesday to show whether the retired Air Force colonel has a lawyer. A call to his home was not immediately returned.

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