A 39-year-old Michigan man who turned himself in earlier this month on charges related to decades-old incidents of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault with a vehicle pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning.
State district Judge Ysmael Fonseca arraigned Juan Jose Gomez on an Aug. 11 indictment charging him with one count of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury over allegations he drove drunk on Feb. 23, 2003, and hit and killed Jennifer Ybarra and seriously injured two other people.
Gomez was not a fugitive. He had never been indicted in the case.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. said recently that his office is trying to figure out why nothing came of the case 17 years ago.
Gomez would have been 21 in 2003 while Jennifer was 19 when she died.
During the hearing, Gomez’s attorney, Joseph A. Connors III, said he’s done some investigation on the case and he believes the statute of limitations expired on two counts of intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury because Gomez was never outside the state of Texas for three straight years.
Both sides also tangled over setting bond for Gomez.
Prosecutor Michael Walker asked Fonseca to set bond at $50,000 cash surety on each charge with several conditions, including the Alternative Incarceration Program, or AIP, which can only be used in Hidalgo County — a problem for Gomez, who lives with his family and works in Michigan.
Connors, who pointed out that Gomez turned himself in to face the 17-year-old charges, asked Fonseca to set a $10,000 bond on the intoxication manslaughter charge, which does not have a statute of limitations, and to set personal bonds on the intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury charges.
A Michigan judge set bond for Gomez after his arrest up there with a requirement that he turn himself into Hidalgo County.
Fonseca set bond on the intoxication manslaughter count at $50,000, and $20,000 apiece for each intoxication assault with a vehicle charge.
The defense attorney told the judge that Gomez just bought a house that is worth $300,000 and has put $100,000 toward its purchase and stands a chance at losing his house the longer he remains in jail.
Connors also said Gomez has three children and a wife to care for and that he needs to get back to his job in Michigan.
The attorney said Gomez knows “there’s a problem” and came to “face the music” and he’s not “running away.”
The hearing, which was streamed on YouTube as courts continue operating remotely because of the coronavirus, brought comment from Pat Ybarra, who said she is Jennifer’s mother.
“ He’s worried about his family did he and his wife ever think about my daughter Jennifer Lee Ybarra,” Pat wrote in the YouTube chat box.
She also said Gomez destroyed her family.