A retired NASA astronaut who flew on five space shuttle missions has been charged with murder after an early-morning car crash in Alabama took the lives of two young half-sisters, per AL.com. A 2015 Chrysler allegedly being driven by James Halsell Jr., 59, smashed into a Ford Fiesta at around 2:50am Monday just east of Tuscaloosa; 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrice Parler, neither of whom was wearing a seatbelt, were ejected from the vehicle, police say. Niomi died at the scene of the accident, while Jayla died later at a local hospital. The driver of the Fiesta, 37-year-old Pernell Deon James (officials say he's the girls' dad), and another passenger, 25-year-old Shontel Latriva Cutts, were also injured in the wreck. The AP notes that James was said to be in good condition and ready for release Tuesday from a Tuscaloosa hospital, while Cutts remains in fair condition.
Meanwhile, state troopers say an initial examination of the crash suggests speed and alcohol may have both been factors. Halsell has been charged with murder, and a spokesman for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office says he was released on $150,000 bond Monday evening. Per his NASA bio page, Halsell's stint with NASA started in 1990 and notched him more than 1,250 hours in space, including as the pilot on two space shuttle trips and commander on three others. After the 2003 Columbia disaster that killed all seven crew members, Halsell was the leader of the space shuttle program's "return-to-flight" planning initiative. He retired from the space agency in 2006. (Read more NASA stories.)