Man who killed teen in 2017 distracted driving crash pleads guilty to manslaughter

Paul Soechting, 27, to be sentenced Thursday morning

Paul Soechting has pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the 2017 death of Emily Zaltsman, 13. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – A man accused of killing a teenager in a 2017 distracted driving crash has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, days before the case was finally scheduled to go to trial.

Paul Soechting, 27, entered the guilty plea during a hearing late last week in front of Judge Frank Castro.

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Soechting had been scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday after 15 previous trial dates were postponed.

In exchange for Soechting’s guilty plea, prosecutors waived the deadly weapon allegation, will recommend that he be granted probation and have waived all fines in the case, court records obtained Monday by KSAT Investigates show.

Soechting, who prosecutors have recommended be given 10 years probation, could still also be required to pay restitution to victim Emily Zaltsman’s mother and grandfather, the plea agreement states.

Judge Castro may also sentence Soechting to serve a portion of his probation in the Bexar County Jail, the agreement states.

Soechting’s defense attorney declined to comment on the plea deal Monday.

Five years waiting for justice

Soechting was accused of driving his Jeep Rubicon into the back of the car Zaltsman was riding in while it was at a standstill in traffic on Loop 1604 in September 2017, crushing the 13-year-old inside the backseat.

A witness told San Antonio police Soechting appeared to be looking down at his phone prior to the wreck.

Investigators noted that Soechting’s vehicle did not brake before striking the back of the Lexus sedan driven by Zaltsman’s grandfather, case records obtained by KSAT Investigates revealed.

Judge Castro, whose court has a larger backlog than all of the county’s other felony courts, blamed the delayed trial on a long list of reasons ranging from COVID court stoppages to needing to prioritize cases in which defendants are in jail awaiting trial.

Bexar County Judicial Management data for the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2021-2022, the latest bar graph data made available for felony court caseloads, shows that Castro had a pending case backlog that was nearly 300 cases higher than that of the next nearest judge.

Judge Castro’s active caseload had reached 1,647, the bar graph data shows.

The judge in recent weeks, however, has made strides in bringing the pending caseload number down, court data shows.

As of Oct. 9, Judge Castro’s pending caseload had dipped to 1,169, records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.

That figure was still 259 cases more than the next nearest court, the data shows.

Soechting is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced Thursday morning.

About the Author

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

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