I wish I wasn't able to say this, but Texas endures far too many drunk driving accidents for us to be able to write about them all.
In 2015, TxDOT reported 960 fatalities related to driving while intoxicated (almost 3 every single day), which unfortunately is too many to fully chronicle and examine. Furthermore, that total also does not factor in the many thousands of serious injuries that also resulted from the year's 24,539 reported DUI crashes. The figures for 2016 are due to be released in May, but I feel like we can probably expect to see a total similar to 2015's.
Of course we never want these cases to be looked at only as numbers or statistics. Every one of those fatalities was a person whose life was tragically cut short. Grossman Law Offices never loses sight of the human side of driving under the influence. While it's unfortunately just not logistically possible to address every crash in great detail, I want to specifically acknowledge some recent accidents to ensure their personal elements are not neglected.
Drunk Driving Incidents in Texas: Recent Examples
The information for each of these incidents was collected from news reports about their respective crashes. I won't claim that intoxication was definitively a part of each wreck; the truth demands we resist such knee-jerk indictments, and we're all better off for that. However, in each case investigators at least suspect alcohol was a factor, and the details of these situations often seem to reflect the common elements of DUI cases.
The incidents outlined below are a representative sampling of accidents in Texas we've come across over the last month.
- March 12 - Dallas: 43-year-old Elie Kelly was charged with intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter after a crash that took the life of an 18-year-old and injured two other people, including Kelly's 10-year-old son.
The incident occurred at approximately 2:30 p.m. in Dallas' Redbird neighborhood, near the 2400 block of West Camp Wisdom Road. As an SUV attempted to turn at an intersection, Kelly's Dodge Charger sped through the intersection and struck the vehicle's front right side. The force and angle of the impact launched the SUV into the air; it landed on its roof. Its passenger, 18-year-old Patrick Henry, was pronounced dead at the scene of massive head trauma. The driver suffered lacerations and a dislocated shoulder and was taken to a nearby hospital. Kelly's own son was also hospitalized with a broken arm and possible internal injuries.
Kelly appeared intoxicated when he exited the Charger. When officers arrived at the scene, he grew argumentative and tried to fight them. He was handcuffed for officers' safety and later arrested on charges of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault causing severe bodily injury.
- March 4 - San Antonio: Two sisters, 23 and 29 years old, were sent to University Hospital--one with critical injuries--after a wrong-way driver collided with their vehicle head-on in the lanes of US Highway 90 West. The crash happened just before 2 a.m. Police suspected alcohol was a factor in the wreck, and the wrong-way driver was subjected to blood testing.
- March 1 - El Paso: At approximately 1:45 a.m., suspected drunken driver Lorenzo Anchondo drove onto a sidewalk while making a left turn near the Cincinnati Entertainment District; his vehicle then struck a stop sign. The sign fell on the head of Del Sol Medical Center nurse Xiaoyan Shi, who was on foot and waiting at the corner to cross. Shi died at the scene from her injuries. Anchondo was arrested on charges of intoxication manslaughter.
- February 25 - Lubbock: 32-year-old Shani Nichols ran a red light at the intersection of Indiana and 34th Street around 2:40 a.m. Her vehicle collided with one driven by 30-year-old Maggie Davidson, who died of her injuries at the scene. Nichols was charged by authorities with intoxication manslaughter.
- February 25 - Dallas: A Chevy pickup and a Toyota convertible collided around 5 a.m. at the intersection of Forest Lane and Abrams Road. The convertible's driver was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The driver of the pickup truck left the scene of the crash on foot; he was located soon in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart. He was arrested at that time for intoxication assault and failure to stop and render aid.
- February 19 - San Antonio: 24-year-old Ariza Marie Gomez was killed near a Walmart parking lot on Pecan Valley. According to authorities, the truck in which Ms. Gomez was riding ran over a median island and hit a tree. As she attempted to exit the truck, she was fatally hit by another driver. Police suspected the second motorist of driving while intoxicated.
- February 18 - Houston: A wrong-way driver in a Ford Mustang collided nearly head-on with another vehicle in the westbound lanes of the city's Westpark Tollway. The crash happened around 12:45 a.m. The wrong-way driver was killed by the impact, and the other motorist suffered serious injuries that required a trip to the hospital. The Harris County medical examiner planned to run tests to determine if alcohol may have been a factor in the wreck.
- February 17 - Dallas: Around 2:30 a.m., the driver of a BMW bounced off two concrete barriers on either side of the Dallas North Tollway before coming to a rest. The car's driver fled the scene on foot, abandoning a female passenger who exited the vehicle but remained at the scene. A good Samaritan stopped at the crash to render aid; shortly thereafter, a northbound Toyota Camry collided with the BMW. The force of the crash pushed the BMW into the female passenger, pinning her between the passenger car and the Samaritan's minivan. She was taken to a hospital with serious injuries. Officers later found the BMW's driver and took him into custody on suspicion of intoxicated driving.
- February 12 - Houston: A woman was ejected from her Jeep on the city's West Loop after being rear-ended by another driver around 12:45 a.m. She lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a wall twice before being ejected. Emergency responders took her to the hospital with critical injuries. The offending driver was soon located on the Katy Freeway; he was taken into custody after police determined that he was intoxicated.
The Law Provides a Remedy for These Victims.
The people hurt and killed in DUI accidents all across Texas are not isolated cases; they and their families were victims of violent circumstances that they didn't create or want any part of. I wanted to highlight their stories--and to identify them where possible--because if you listen to critics of Texas dram shop law, these victims seldom exist. The truth of the matter is quite different. Most people who were injured by a drunk driver and a bar's unlawful alcohol service were people who just happened to be in a drunk's path when things took a tragic turn. The effects of those crashes can last the rest of those victims' lives, creating enormous complication and expense.
Drunk drivers, or at least those who were reasonably suspected of driving drunk, caused these crashes. There's a significant measure of personal responsibility to be assigned there, of course, since they chose to overindulge in substances known to compromise judgment and reaction time. However, looking at the circumstances of most of those accidents, it appears that someone was likely serving them those intoxicants. This behavior--continuing to serve patrons who are obviously drunk--is illegal, and carries with it serious consequences.
Opponents of dram shop law often complain that it's a system designed to extort and punish bars when people go out and drink too much, then hurt themselves. In their view, accountability is an unjust burden on bars and restaurants; after all, "nobody forced the plaintiff to order more drinks." This argument conveniently ignores that serving staff is generally encouraged to recommend another round, even if they don't mandate it.
Most Texas bars and restaurants readily comply with dram shop legislation because it's generally recognized as a measure to prevent over-service and promote public welfare. However, as we can readily gather from DUI crash statistics, not every establishment is willing to make good-faith efforts to keep patrons on the safe side of .08 BAC. Not every crash happens because someone went overboard at a bar, but enough of them do that it becomes fairly obvious not every establishment complies with the law. When they choose to continue serving a drunk patron and that person then hurts someone on the road, it's only right that the victim have a way to seek compensation against anyone who helped the drunk driver become a hazard.