An Erath County jury began hearing testimony in the punishment phase of Ryan Crutsinger Wednesday in the 266th Judicial District Court.

Crutsinger pleaded guilty Monday to intoxication manslaughter in the September 2007 accident that killed Stephen Cage, a 19-year-old Tarleton State University freshman. The jury will hear testimony to decide his punishment.

In opening remarks, District Attorney John Terrill said a group of students got together on the evening of Sept. 10, 2007 to play video games and “hang out” at an apartment. He said about midnight, Crutsinger went to Wal-Mart and purchased a can of “Duster,” used to clean computer keyboards, then returned to the apartment where some of the students began “huffing.”

Early the next morning, four of the students, including Crutsinger and Cage, left the apartment in a black Saab to head back to the dorms. Terrill said Crutsinger was behind the wheel and was taking “hits” from the can as he was driving down Washington Street. While traveling about 50-60 mph, Crutsinger lost consciousness, then struck a retaining wall.

Cage was killed instantly.

Members of the victim’s family, including his father J.C. Cage, told the jury how Stephen’s death has changed their lives.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him,” he said. “There is a big hole in my heart. I wouldn’t wish this type of situation on anyone.”

Stephen Cage had just finished his first week at Tarleton when he died. He had left his home in Conroe just 20 days prior to the accident.

The accident devastated Stephen’s younger sister.

Stephen’s mother Melanie Cage said the family is still struggling with the loss.

“Grief is the cost of loving someone very, very much,” she said, sobbing. “What I have learned (since the accident), is that in your deepest, darkest hours there are people who will rush to your side to help your family.”

Much of Wednesday’s testimony focused on an incident in December 2006, where Crutsinger and a group of friends narrowly avoided an accident while huffing.

Chelsi Redman, a Tarleton freshman and friend of Crutsinger’s, said the driver of the vehicle passed out after huffing while traveling at about 70 mph.

“His foot was stuck on the pedal and we started going faster,” Redman said. 

The passengers scrambled to get control of the vehicle before coming to a stop.

The prosecution brought up the matter to show that Crutsinger was aware of the dangers of huffing, particularly when driving.

Testimony in the case is expected to resume today.