Former UA student pleads guilty to manslaughter in boating deaths

Posted: August 20, 2014 at 2:44 p.m.

A former University of Arkansas student pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to two counts of first-degree manslaughter in the boating deaths of two UA students last year.

John Stuart DeSelms of Tulsa will be sentenced at a later date, said his attorney, Winston Connor.

The penalty for a first-degree manslaughter conviction in Oklahoma is four years to life in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

DeSelms admitted to being intoxicated when he crashed a ski boat into a houseboat May 14 on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake, killing William Lewis “Trey” Varner III of Texarkana, Ark., and Rachel Nichole Swetnam of Grove, Okla., who were sitting in the front of the ski boat. Both also were UA students.

Deselms’ blood-alcohol level was 0.18 after the accident, “which is more than two times the legal limit while operating a vehicle,” according to an affidavit. He told investigators he had consumed 10 beers and a shot of tequila between 11:30 a.m. and the time of the accident at 5:42 p.m. Deselms said he also had taken an antidepressant drug not prescribed to him before the crash.

DeSelms has been free on a $25,000 bond.