Intox manslaughter trial underway

Luis Gonzalez listens to his attorney, Adolfo Alvarez Jr., during opening statements in his trial Wednesday at the Hidalgo County Courthouse in Edinburg. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor |dlopez@themonitor.com

EDINBURG — A jury watched terrible body camera video Wednesday afternoon depicting a tragic and chaotic scene near the intersection of Monte Cristo and Closner roads, where a Texas Highway Patrol officer discovered a head-on collision that killed a 3-year-old, along with the boy’s mother and grandmother.

The video was shown to the jury near the end of the first day of 21-year-old Edinburg resident Luis Gonzalez’s trial that saw 10 witnesses testify. Witnesses ranged from people on scene to law enforcement officers to an expert on drug analyses.

Gonzalez is charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter and a count of intoxication assault with a vehicle for the deadly Aug. 9, 2018, head-on collision that killed 55-year-old Maria Isabel De La Garza, 33-year-old Marci Lou Powell and 3-year-old Joshua Devin Powell, as well as seriously injuring Jeanna Guajardo, who survived the crash.

The 21-year-old man has entered not guilty pleas to the charges and during opening statements, his attorney, Adolfo Alvarez, told jurors that his client fell asleep at the wheel that night after working a double shift during the day before going on a date.

Gonzalez took one Xanax before that date because he was nervous, Alvarez said.

“So that is not the cause of this accident,” Alvarez said. “The cause was he was tired and fell asleep. Period.”

After dropping the woman off, Alvarez said Gonzalez was heading home and the head-on crash occurred on a route he knew well.

According to Alvarez, Gonzalez was minutes away from his destination.

Meanwhile, Guajardo, De La Garza, Joshua and Marci Lou were headed eastbound on Monte Cristo Road after having an unexpected night out for dinner at a taqueria as Gonzalez was traveling westbound on Monte Cristo Road when he veered into oncoming traffic at around 9:26 p.m., hitting a vehicle driven by De La Garza head-on.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Marco Castañeda was in the area at the time of the crash and had just finished having dinner when he noticed traffic backing up.

His body camera captured the deadly scene minutes after it occurred.

Joshua was hunched over on his booster wearing a seat belt in the back seat. Both De La Garza and Marci Lou were slumped over in the front area of the vehicle.

Castañeda testified it was immediately apparent to him that the trio were dead.

Guajardo is heard moaning in severe pain from the back seat of the vehicle as civilians, including Yajida Rodriguez, tried to calm her down while those on scene waited for paramedics and first responders.

Another body camera video from Edinburg Police Department patrol officer Daniel Miranda shows Gonzalez in his vehicle.

The front is smashed in and Gonzalez is trapped between the driver’s seat and driver’s wheel with blood on his face.

Miranda testified that Gonzalez was in shock.

The airbags in both vehicles did not deploy.

Texas Department of Public Safety toxicologist Dan Rios, a lead scientist at the agency’s Austin laboratory, testified that a blood sample taken from Gonzalez tested positive for Xanax.

The level in the man’s blood was .066, which Rios testified falls between the therapeutic range of .02 and .06 for the treatment of general anxiety.

No evidence has been presented showing that Gonzalez was prescribed the controlled substance.

Previous court hearings have also revealed that there was no alcohol in Gonzalez’s system.

Other witnesses, including Maria Esmeralda Hernandez, Victor Mireles and Ramiro Perez Jr. testified they were driving behind Gonzalez when he exited Highway 281 onto the Frontage Road before taking a left onto Monte Cristo Road.

All three testified they saw Gonzalez swerve completely off the road before regaining control on the Frontage Road in the minutes before he veered into oncoming traffic on Monte Cristo Road.

“He is going to kill somebody,” Hernandez said from the stand, recalling that night. “That’s the first thing that came to my mind.”

Moments later, the fatal accident happened.

The trial continues Thursday morning.