Soldier pleads guilty to 2020 traffic death of 5-year-old Russell Co. boy

Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 10:08 AM EDT
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RUSSELL COUNTY, Ala. (WTVM) - The man accused in the traffic death of a five-year-old Russell County boy is pleading guilty to manslaughter.

A 20-year army veteran from Fort Moore admits to playing a role in the death of his girlfriend’s son. Now his fate is in the hands of an East Alabama judge as he waits to find out how long he will be in prison.

As 37-year-old Bryan Starr puts it, a bad decision has cost 5-year-old Austin Birdseye of Russell County his life on a dark, rainy night in November of 2020. Avoiding what would have been a week-long trial, Starr, a Fort Moore soldier with 20 years of service, pleaded guilty first thing Monday morning to felony manslaughter for the child’s death.

According to Russell County District Attorney Rick Chancey, Starr tells police the child wanted to run away and wanted a new family. Starr puts him out at the church and tells him he’ll find his new family there. He then waits and drives around to the back of the church parking lot. In surveillance video from the church parking lot that night, you can see the child try and block Starr’s car from pulling off. At one point, he even goes to beat on the church doors hoping someone would let him in. The child then wanders off into the dark rain and is later on Highway 165 in Fort Mitchell.

“Who in the world leaves a child alone? To know that he was abandoned and put out in the rain right after Thanksgiving and runs off into the dark, knowing that in just in minutes, he’s going to get hit by a car. Boy, it hurts your heart.”, said Chancey. “I’m disappointed that someone with that many years of military experience makes such a poor decision.”

Starr and his attorney declined to comment but disagree with how prosecutors see the case’s details. Court officials say the child had a history of throwing temper tantrums. A way Starr and his girlfriend, the child’s mother, would try and calm him down was by taking him on car rides, like what happened the night he died.

Although Starr took a plea deal, court officials still called witnesses and presented evidence to the judge to be considered later for a sentencing hearing. A plethora of witnesses took the stand, including the driver who hit the 5-year-old to the child’s mother. According to the child’s mother, she blames everyone, from Bryan Starr and herself to the people she claims saw her son running down the highway that night for his death. She told the court Monday the two had gotten married last year.

Chancey is indifferent about the plea after Starr downplayed the incident in court.

“Maybe after seeing his reaction today, maybe I do have a little bit of regret, maybe that I offered him this but listen, no trial is good. No trial is fun. If I can get prison time out of this, I think that’s fair,” said Chancey. It’s disturbing that someone would do that and not recognize that a child can’t protect themselves. At five, you can’t leave a child alone.”

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 13th and 1:30 P.M. Starr faces up to five years in prison. He will remain out on bond until the hearing.