EDINBURG — A 21-year-old Edinburg accused of driving while under the influence of a Xanax pill and killing a 3-year-old child, the child’s mother and his grandmother took the stand in his own defense Monday.
Luis Gonzalez took the stand for approximately 20 minutes, where he told jurors what he did — and didn’t — remember about the events leading up to the fatal car crash just east of the intersection of Closner and Monte Cristo roads on Aug. 9, 2018.
Gonzalez is charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter for the deaths of Joshua Powell, 3, Marci Lou Powell, 33, and Maria Isabel De La Garza, 55, along with a count of intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injuries for then 31-year-old Jeanna Guajardo, who survived the crash.
De La Garza is Guajardo’s mother, Marci Lou is her sister and Joshua is her nephew.
Testimony during the trial, which started last Wednesday, has showed that there was no alcohol in Gonzalez’s system. Gonzalez did have a residual amount of marijuana in his system, a detail the jury has not heard after the man’s defense attorneys, Oscar Vega and Adolfo Alvarez Jr., successfully suppressed the detail.
By his own admission from a hospital bed on Aug. 10, 2018, and on the stand Monday, Gonzalez admitted to taking a single Xanax, despite not having a prescription, to calm himself before a date with a girl he had just started dating because he was nervous.
Testimony has shown the level of Xanax in his system was .066, which falls within the therapeutic guidelines for the general treatment of anxiety.
His defense has been that he fell asleep at the wheel and wasn’t intoxicated. Rather, he was tired from staying up all night talking to the girl he had started dating on Aug. 8, 2010, before working a double shift on Aug. 9, 2018. After work, at around 5 p.m., he went out on a date.
A little more than four hours later, he was about a minute from his house after dropping the woman off when he veered into oncoming traffic in the eastbound lane of Monte Cristo Road, traveling at a speed of 29 mph. He slammed into the car driven by De La Garza, killing her, her daughter and her grandson nearly instantly. De La Garza was driving 39 mph, testimony has shown.
On Monday, Gonzalez told jurors that he had been awake for about 36 hours before the crash and had been fighting falling asleep all day.
When Assistant District Attorney Roxanna Salinas asked Gonzalez why he would get behind the wheel after staying awake so long and nearly falling asleep several times, Gonzalez told her his love life was more important than sleep that day because he and his now ex-girlfriend were in the early stages of their relationship.
The Edinburg man said he occasionally took Xanax for anxiety and to help with depression, but admitted Monday that Aug. 9, 2018, was the first time he took Xanax and got behind the wheel.
He also told jurors how he thought the crash happened on Highway 281, not near the intersection of Monte Cristo and Closner roads.
Gonzalez also told jurors how he didn’t remember his hospital bed confession, which his attorneys attempted to suppress prior to the trial.
That confession was taken a little more than 12 hours after the crash while Gonzalez, with a tube in his nose and blood on his face, answered questions from police in a gravely voice.
Gonzalez had been in surgery that night for a ruptured spleen, previous court hearings have revealed.
The man’s father, Jose Luis Gonzalez, 49, and his brother, 26, Eduardo Gonzalez, also both took the stand Monday, telling jurors that Gonzalez did not appear intoxicated to them.
When Vega, one of his attorneys, asked him whether he was sorry about what happened, Gonzalez said, “Of, course I am.”
He also told Vega the crash wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t fallen asleep.
Closing arguments are expected Tuesday morning.
After that, Gonzalez’s fate is in the hands of the jury, which will then begin deliberations.