UPDATED: Driver in dispatcher’s death charged with intoxication manslaughter

EDINBURG — Sobbing, a 20-year-old man accused in the death of a sheriff’s dispatcher learned on Tuesday the charges he faces in connection with a fatal car crash, which happened just two months after being released on probation for driving while intoxicated.

Orlando Zuniga Rodriguez was arraigned on five felony charges Tuesday stemming from the Sunday car crash on Expressway 281 that killed 29-year-old Sandra Coronado, a dispatcher with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. These include intoxication manslaughter, accident involving injury, accident involving death, intoxication assault and fraudulent use or possession of identifying information.

Edinburg Municipal Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios set Rodriguez’s bonds at $700,000.

Rodriguez broke down as the charges were read to him and again as he signed arraignment paperwork, looking toward his family who filled the first row of the municipal courtroom.

Family members of Orlando Zuniga watch him be arraigned on five charges in connection with a fatal car crash Sunday at Edinburg Municipal Court on Tuesday Dec. 11, 2018. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

The crash occurred in the 4900 block of Expressway 281 and Edinburg police were called to the scene at approximately 6:46 a.m., according to the probable cause affidavit tied to Rodriguez’s arrest. The Chevrolet Avalanche truck driven by Rodriguez and the Buick Encore SUV driven by Coronado were “pushed against the concrete barrier that divides the southbound and northbound lanes of traffic,” according to the affidavit.

Police spokesman Lt. Oscar Treviño said Coronado was traveling northbound on the expressway and Rodriguez, who was traveling westbound on East Alberta Road, disregarded a stop sign and somehow ended up on the expressway, broadsiding her car.

Rodriguez allegedly fled the scene of the crash on foot and was apprehended near the 300 block of East Owassa Road, according to the affidavit, which went on to state that when police found him, he allegedly smelled of alcohol and marijuana, his eyes were bloodshot and his speech slurred. He also had a fraudulent permanent resident card in his possession.

Coronado died at the scene and Rodriguez’s 20-year-old passenger suffered a collapsed lung.

Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra told The Monitor she was on her way to work at the time of the crash.

Rodriguez posted “Dt Dt Dt Dt?” — which usually refers to downtown McAllen — on his Facebook page Saturday night. Friends tried to dissuade him in subsequent responses to his post, warning he could end up behind bars.

Rodriguez, however, appeared to brush off concerns, saying he could “control” his drinking.

It’s unclear where he consumed the beer, liquor, cocaine and marijuana he confessed to police to using before the crash, per the affidavit. He told police he was taking his friend home at the time of the collision.

Sunday’s incident was not Rodriguez’s first run-in with the law involving alcohol.

He was arrested in June 2017 on a driving while intoxicated charge, according to Hidalgo County court records. He pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge in July of that year and was sentenced to nine months of probation by County Court-at-Law Judge Arnoldo Cantu Jr. as part of a plea bargain with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office. Conditions of his probation were that he not use drugs and alcohol and have a breathalyzer device installed in his vehicle.

However, Rodriguez’s probation was revoked in January of this year because he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of failure to identify, failed to report to his probation officer from August through November 2017, failed to attend a 12-hour alcohol education class and failed to install the breathalyzer in his vehicle, according to the state’s motion to revoke.

But in April, the DA’s office filed a motion to dismiss Rodriguez’s revocation of probation and the judge extended his probation for six months until Oct. 6. On Oct. 30, Rodriguez was discharged from probation.

The most serious of the new charges Rodriguez faces carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He remained in the custody of the county jail Tuesday evening. Should he post bond, Palacios ordered he be required to carry a portable breathalyzer device.