HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Its been nearly 14 years since a tragic car crash took the lives of two Huntsville teenagers at the intersection of Whitesburg Drive and Airport Road.
The man responsible for that crash, Felix Ortega, pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) reported that Ortega died in prison Friday, closing another chapter in a tragic incident that continues to reverberate.
Ellin Jimmerson, the mother of one of the teens killed in that crash, shared her reaction to the news of Ortega’s death with News 19.
“It made me really sad,” she said. “For one thing, no one should die while they’re incarcerated.”
Jimmerson reflected on hearing the news that the man convicted of killing her teen daughter in a car crash died while serving her sentence.
In 2010, Leigh Anna Jimmerson, 16, died when Ortega’s vehicle crashed into the car she was riding in at the intersection of Airport Road and Whitesburg Drive. Her boyfriend, Tad Mattle, 19, was also killed in the crash.
Despite the pain, Leigh Anna’s mother said she forgave Ortega well before he pleaded guilty.
“I don’t know why I didn’t feel any anger or hostility,” she said. “He was a human being and I think for many intents and purposes, he never really had a chance.”
Jimmerson said she often reflected on Ortega’s sentence and claims that police never acknowledged their role in the pursuit that ended in the fiery crash.
“All the blame was put on Felix Ortega,” she said. “He was undocumented and he apparently was drunk. I think there were also other issues that may have come into play. But none of the burden was placed on the police officer. None. We didn’t hear from them that night. We didn’t hear from them at any point since then.”
Jimmerson still questions if the police chase of Ortega was necessary.
Prosecutors said Ortega had a blood alcohol level well past the legal limit at the time of the crash. Ortega’s defense attorney, Ron Smith said Ortega was remorseful from the time of his arrest to the day he was sentenced.
“When he pled guilty, Mr. Ortega made a statement and apologized to both families, expressed remorse and expressed his culpability in the situation,” Smith said.
Ortega was set to be released from prison in 2025. Smith said he never tried to escape from the reality of his actions.
“He basically wanted to do the right thing, and did not want to dodge responsibility,” Smith said. “He accepted responsibility, asked for (the family’s) forgiveness and they welcomed that and accepted it and forgave him for what had happened, even though their daughter was taken from them.”
What led to Ortega’s death is unclear at this time. ADOC has only said that he was found unresponsive in the common area of the Elmore Correctional facility and was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.