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Driver who killed teen while using phone asks for parole

'I've left a huge hole in this family that I'll never be able to fill,' Jeffrey Bascom says

UTAH STATE PRISON — Jeffery Lloyd Bascom says he's always had a hard time expressing his feelings and emotions.

But Tuesday during his first parole hearing at the Utah State Prison, he attempted to let both the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole and the family of Thomas "Tommy" Lavelle Clark know that he is sorry for what happened.

"I've left a huge hole in this family that I'll never be able to fill, and I can't say that I'm sorry enough for what I've done," he said. "I'm so sorry for what I've done to this family. There's nothing I can say that can bring Tommy back. If I could take his place right now, I would."

In September of 2012, Bascom, 30, of Jensen in Uintah County, was driving his pickup truck near 500 West near 1200 South in Vernal. He was stopped at a stop light and had just finished arguing with his girlfriend on a cellphone. As Bascom started driving again, he was angry and began dialing the number of another friend.

As he did, he drifted off to the shoulder of the road where 15-year-old Tommy and a friend were walking.

"I was looking at my phone, not paying attention to the road, and I felt I hit something. And I looked and I saw something go past the window and I didn't know it was Tommy. I pulled over and his friend was running up the road screaming, 'Tommy, Tommy!'" Bascom recalled.

The Vernal teen died the next day from his injuries. Bascom was charged with automobile homicide, a second-degree felony. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of automobile homicide, a third-degree felony, and also settled a wrongful death suit filed by Tommy's parents. Bascom was sentenced to up to five years at the Utah State Prison.

After the accident, Bascom engaged in self-destructive behavior, relapsing after being clean from drugs for a year and later stealing an ATV, driving it as fast as it could go and crashing it. When he was sentenced for Tommy's death in 2013, Bascom's jaw was still wired shut from the injuries he sustained.

"I didn't know how to live after (Tommy's death)," he told parole board member Chyleen Arbon. "I just didn't know how to deal with those emotions at all."

Bascom said he felt "worthless" and "couldn't look at myself in the mirror."

Tuesday, speaking often times in a quiet, monotone voice, Bascom said that while a couple of years ago he was angry and would shut people out, today he is getting better about talking about his emotions. He admitted, however, that it is still hard to talk about the incident.

Members of Tommy's family — many of whom were present at Tuesday's hearing wearing purple shirts with a picture of Tommy on the front — said Bascom's actions tore them apart and they believe he has yet to accept responsibility for what happened.

"He took from us a very special young man that could have done anything in the world with his life. … He had never been in trouble with the law. He had never done drugs. He had done everything he could to get his act together. We have no future great-grandkids," Donald Kirkwood, Tommy's grandfather, told Arbon. "We have nothing. He took it all by his acts."

Bascom kept his head bowed low and appeared to show the most emotion as Kirkwood spoke. Kirkwood frequently used the word "destroyed" to describe how Tommy's death has impacted his family.

"This has had such a major impact on our family that it's unbelievable," he said, noting that there are now frequent arguments among family members and many have moved out of Vernal. "Everything that he could have and should have done, he chose to ignore. My family is almost completely torn apart.

"He has completely destroyed anything and everything good about our family," Kirkwood continued.

He and others were also upset that Bascom's bad behaviors continued after the accident, and that he only changed after he was sent to prison.

"To find out that this young man continued on his path the same after he hit and killed Tommy, he didn't change," Kirkwood said. "Everybody is at fault but him. I have yet to hear him say, 'I did this' or 'I did that.' All I've heard him say is everybody else mishandled his end of it. I have not seen him take responsibility for anything at this point."

Bascom, who has had four disciplinary write-ups since arriving at the prison but none in recent months, said he has completed many of the programs offered by the prison and is ready to make good use of the rest of his life.

"Honestly, I don't even know if I'll even drive again," he said. "I'm never going to text and drive again or use my phone again while I'm driving." He also said he was done with drugs.

"I don't want to live that way anymore. I have too much to prove to my family and myself, that I'm better than that," he said. "All I can do is straighten my act up and try to live the best life that I can."

The full five-member parole board will now vote on whether to release Bascom from prison early. If he were to serve his full time, he would be released in 2018.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam