Harris County Drunk Driving Chronicle

Michael GrossmanAugust 13, 2018 26 minutes

Texas continues to be infamous for leading the country in drunk driving fatalities. Partly due to its size, but also due to a high rate of drunk driving, Harris County (primarily Houston) contributes more to that dubious distinction than any other jurisdiction in the state.

In an ideal world, we would be able to analyze, highlight and draw attention to every single drunk driving accident in Houston, but we only have the resources to address a relatively small number of them in depth. However, we firmly believe that the victims of drunk driving crashes should be acknowledged and their stories told. The thinking behind this project is simple: If we are too overwhelmed by the sheer number of horrific drunk driving accidents in Houston, then perhaps the shock of seeing such a long list might illustrate to the general public just how terrible and urgent this problem is. In an effort to do that, Grossman Law Offices will maintain a running chronicle of some notable Houston-area drunk driving accidents.

Crashes in Harris County, TX: 2018

2017 was a grim year for DUI crashes; the accounts we added are only a small fraction of those that occurred in Harris County.

Naturally we hope 2018 will be the year to break the cycle, but pragmatically we have to think that might not be the case. As such, we will continue our ongoing chronicle of drunk driving crashes in Harris County, as a way to highlight some specific examples of a much larger problem.

August 12: A head-on crash early Sunday morning killed one person and left another facing intoxication manslaughter charges.

Investigators say that Rafael Escobar was speeding west in the center lane of Farm-to-Market Road 529 just before 3:30 a.m. As he approached the 13400 block of the road, his vehicle crashed directly into a 2006 Buick Lacrosse.

The force of the crash critically injured the Buick's unnamed driver. Emergency personnel rushed him to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Escobar was also taken to the hospital as well for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries and will be booked into Harris County Jail upon his release.

August 12: A flaming single-vehicle wreck claimed the life of a Houston driver in western Harris County very early Sunday morning.

Just on the Sunday side of midnight around 12:15 a.m., a westbound driver was speeding along the Katy Freeway feeder road. As the vehicle approached the West Sam Houston Parkway it lost control.

The vehicle skidded off the road and crashed through an iron fence before rolling on its side and bursting into flames.

The unnamed driver, 57, died inside the car of their severe burns. Authorities did not confirm that intoxication was a factor, but the fact pattern relayed by the news suggests that may be the case.

July 26: Two high school students were fatally injured in a DWI crash on Wednesday. While most Harris County crashes I document happen in Houston itself, several other cities, including this crash's site of Atascocita, lie within Harris County's borders.

Authorities say the single-vehicle wreck happened in the evening around the 18300 block of Timber Forest Drive. 17-year-old Jaggar Smith is said to have lost control of his speeding Nissan Altima, running off the road and smashing into some trees.

The force of the Altima's impact with the trees split the car in half and instantly killed 16-year-old Chloe Robison, one of two passengers in the vehicle. Salma Gomez, the other passenger and also 16, was taken by emergency personnel to a nearby hospital where she died. Jaggar Smith suffered only minor injuries. All three teens were said to have worn their seat belts during the ride.

Smith later confessed to consuming "a whole bottle of MD (Mad Dog) 20/20" before driving that day. He is charged with two counts of intoxication manslaughter.

July 15: A Sunday morning crash near the Houston Galleria killed one motorcyclist and injured two others.

According to investigators the wreck happened around 3 a.m. As the three motorcycle riders exited Loop 610 at Richmond Avenue, a BMW driver crashed into their cycles.

The first rider hit was thrown from his Suzuki cycle and was pronounced dead at the scene. The other two riders suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were taken to an area hospital for treatment.

The BMW driver fled the scene after hitting the motorcyclists. Officers located the vehicle and driver a short time later and charged the driver with DWI.

July 14, evening: A high school football coach and health teacher was involved in a fatal crash Saturday evening that took the life of a 70-year-old Houston man.

Investigators say Tirone Curtis, an educator at Cypress Lakes High School, was on West Road in northwest Harris County around 9:45 p.m. As he approached Easton Commons, his vehicle struck a pedestrian, killing him on impact.

Curtis fled the scene after hitting the pedestrian but later returned, admitting to authorities that he hit the man and also that he had consumed alcohol earlier that evening. He was arrested for DWI and Failure to Stop and Render Aid.

July 14, morning: A pickup truck and a car fatally collided on Loop 610 Saturday morning.

Police report the wreck happened around 3 a.m. when the two vehicles crashed on 610's exit ramp toward U.S. Highway 290, also called the Northwest Freeway. According to witnesses the car's driver was weaving erratically through traffic when his car ran into the truck, causing it to roll over several times.

The truck's driver was ejected from his vehicle as it flipped; he was pronounced dead at the scene. The car that caused the accident was disabled by the crash, so its driver attempted to flee the scene on foot. He jumped off the freeway ramp to the road below and ran to a nearby gas station. Police found him at that location and took him into custody.

This crash, like one I recently wrote about, does not categorically state that the offending driver was charged with DWI. Again, however, the fact pattern presented (early morning crash, driver weaving through traffic, an attempt to flee the scene after the accident) suggest the defendant was likely intoxicated.

July 12: A three-car crash in southwest Houston caused at least two serious injuries Thursday night.

The wreck happened at roughly 12:15 a.m. when an unnamed driver ran through a stop sign at the intersection of Kirby and West Orem Drives. After running the sign the car hit an eastbound Cadillac on West Orem, knocking it off-course into a Jeep that was stopped on the other side of the intersection.

It's unclear which people from which vehicles were taken to local hospitals for their injuries, but at least two people were confirmed to have been taken from the scene in ambulances.

This accident is different from many I've recorded over time in that specific DWI allegations weren't made at the time of the initial reports. However, if we examine the known facts of the crash (early morning, someone ran a stop sign) there is a strong likelihood that intoxication was a factor.

July 1: A late-night crash on Sunday nearly took the life of a north Houston pedestrian.

An unnamed but allegedly drunken driver was eastbound on Mitchell Road when he struck the male pedestrian. At the time of the crash the man was on the side of the road near Fieldworth Drive.

The driver didn't stop to render aid, driving several more blocks before the crash damage disabled his vehicle. At that point the driver abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot, but witnesses reported his whereabouts to the police.

Officers took the man into custody, and he faces charges of DWI and intoxication assault. The pedestrian he hit was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

June 26: A crash in southeast Houston killed a woman and injured her two children on Tuesday night.

Investigators say the Elvia Rodriguez and her children, ages 10 and 16, were stopped in a Mazda sedan at the intersection of Calhoun Road and Pershing Street around 9 p.m. At that time a Chevy Silverado pickup truck driven by 32-year-old Mark Charlot, speeding and swerving erratically, crashed into the Mazda 626.

Police would later say that Charlot lost control of his truck, hit a curb near a bus stop at the intesection, and slammed into the Mazda's driver's side, killing its driver. The two children in the car were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

Mark Charlot was charged with intoxication manslaughter.

June 19: A man caused a three-vehicle crash Tuesday night in northwest Houston, causing injury to multiple parties.

According to Houston police, 19-year-old Fredy Martinez ran a red light at the intersection of Long Point and Bingle roads. Eastbound, his Ford F-150 pickup truck then hit a Nissan Sentra headed north on Bingle Road. The collision caused the pickup to roll several times before it ran into another F-150, stopped in the westbound lanes of Long Point.

A 19-year-old man was charged with intoxication assault after police said he ran a red light Tuesday night and caused a three-vehicle crash in northwest Houston. Martinez and his passenger were both thrown out of the truck by the second collision.

The passenger from Martinez's pickup suffered critical injuries and was transported to a nearby hospital. Martinez was also taken to the hospital, as were the two 18-year-olds in the Nissan Sentra, with unspecified injuries. The driver of the second F-150 wasn't injured.

Martinez faces charges of intoxication assault.

June 2: A wrong-way crash in Houston critically injured and hospitalized a man early Saturday morning.

Houston police said the three-vehicle wreck happened around 2:30 a.m. on Interstate 45 near West Dallas Street. A woman traveling north against traffic on the interstate's southbound side crashed into three vehicles during this time. The driver, 28-year-old Nicole Bertoldi, allegedly struck the first victim head-on before sideswiping a second vehicle and clipping a third with what remained of her momentum.

The first crash sent an unnamed 67-year-old man to Ben Taub hospital with critical injuries. A woman in the second car suffered minor injuries and was also taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Bertoldi admitted to police at the scene that she was drinking before she got behind the wheel that night. She was charged with intoxicated assault and is still recovering from her injuries in the hospital.

UPDATE: Later stories revealed the name of the 67-year-old victim as Mr. Billy Allen of Harris County. Allen died of his injuries in Ben Taub hospital on June 16; the charges against Nicole Bertoldi were upgraded to intoxication manslaughter.

May 25: Early Friday morning, a bus operated by the Houston Police Department was involved in a crash with a suspected drunk driver.

The wreck happened downtown around 3:30 a.m. at the intersection of Polk and Chartres Streets.

At the time of the accident the prison bus was transporting eleven inmates from the city jail to the county jail. Authorities state a driver allegedly caused the crash after turning illegally and traveling the wrong way down a one-way street. He reportedly failed a field sobriety test at the scene.

Some inmates reportedly suffered minor injuries and were taken to Ben Taub Hospital for evaluation.

May 21: An early-morning crash on the Southwest Freeway Monday has been attributed to a possible drunk driver.

Authorities suggest the driver, whom they suspect was intoxicated, ran into another vehicle on the freeway at Hillcroft Street. The second vehicle then slammed into the back of a fire truck that coincidentally was on the freeway at that time.

The collision caused the second vehicle's driver to become pinned under the truck. He was extracted by first responders and taken to a nearby hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. No firefighters were hurt by the collision.

The suspect stopped at the scene and notified the police about the crash. Officers on the scene determined that the driver who caused the wreck smelled of alcohol. He was detained on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

May 10: An alleged drunk-driving wreck near the Johnson Space Center took one man's life Thursday night.

Houston police said the single-vehicle crash happened around 9 p.m. in the 18600 block of Space Center Boulevard. Two men in a pickup truck were involved in a minor collision shortly before the incident and had sped away north from the scene. The pickup's driver lost control, crossed over the median, and drove into oncoming traffic before crashing into a metal obstruction. The truck then rolled and briefly went airborne before coming to rest in a nearby grassy area.

In the course of the crash both the driver and passenger of the pickup were ejected from the vehicle. They were taken to the hospital, where the passenger died of his injuries. The unnamed driver is expected to survive but likely will faced intoxication manslaughter charges.

People who were with the two men on the day of the crash told police they had been drinking before the wreck. Witnesses from the earlier minor accident said the driver was weaving erratically before the collision.

April 7: A crash in northwest Houston took the life of one driver and saw another arrested on charges of intoxication manslaughter.

According to authorities, the wreck occurred around 7:45 p.m. on Hempstead Road. Witnesses allegedly saw 25-year-old Cory Jinks weaving through southbound traffic at a high rate of speed in a Dodge Ram.

Jinks' truck soon entered the road's northbound lanes and collided head-on with a Mazda vehicle, killing its unnamed driver.

Police indicate that Jinks was taken to a hospital for treatment of serious injuries. While there, he was tested and found to be intoxicated. He was then charged with intoxication manslaughter.

March 25: Two major accidents happened consecutively Sunday morning, killing one motorist and injuring several more.

Deputies from the Harris County Sheriff's Office say the initial crash happened around 2 a.m. on Farm-to-Market Road 1960 near Aldine Westfield Road. A westbound Chevy pickup traveled west at a high rate of speed and ran into the back of a Toyota Corolla headed the same direction.

The sedan, carrying three people at the time, spun out on the roadway and split in half. Its driver Shane Laniyo was pronounced dead at the scene. The two other occupants, Nasima Uddin and Kilroy Igisair-Fitial, were taken to the hospital with severe injuries.

Deputies said the driver of the pickup stopped and exited the vehicle after the crash. Witnesses to the accident said he appeared intoxicated, as his speech was slurred and his walk unbalanced. He fled from the scene of the crash and has not yet been apprehended.

Police and medical personnel were called to the scene; as police inspected the crash, several tow trucks were used to block the lanes' use by passing traffic. A few minutes after their arrival and placement, a westbound SUV collided with three of the tow trucks. A passenger in one of the tow trucks, Armando Rosa, suffered broken ribs and was taken to the hospital.

The SUV's unnamed driver had to be extricated from its destroyed frame by firefighters. He was then taken to a hospital where he was tested for intoxication. The results aren't yet available.

March 23: A fatal hit-and-run crash in the Spring region of Harris County led to the arrest of two suspects on Friday.

According to authorities, 68-year-old bicyclist Donna Lowe was riding with a group of cyclists in Pundt Park around 9 a.m. Lowe was struck by a fast-moving vehicle as she tried to cross the intersection at Spring Creek Drive.

The force of the impact killed Lowe at the scene. The vehicle's driver, 37-year-old Phillip Trahan, tried to speed away from the scene but crashed into some trees a short distance away. He and his passenger, 44-year-old Angel Escobar, fled into the woods from the crash site. The pair were later apprehended by K-9 officers searching the woods.

When apprehended, Phillip Trahan showed signs of intoxication. He was charged with Failure to Stop and Render Aid and Intoxication Manslaughter--both felonies. Angel Escobar was charged with Failure to Report a Felony, a Class A misdemeanor.

March 11: Following a multi-vehicle crash that killed one and injured several more, 26-year-old Elmer Quintanilla was arrested by deputies of the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

According to information from the office, the wreck occurred around 1 p.m. in the 8900 block of the Sam Houston Parkway (Beltway 8) near West Road. Quintanilla allegedly lost control of his GMC Sierra pickup while exiting the toll road. He hit another vehicle which rolled over and ran into a large brick sign, killing its driver on impact.

Quintanilla's truck continued rolling, running into another vehicle as it pulled out of a church parking lot. It didn't come to a stop until it struck three more vehicles in the lot.