EDINBURG — The night of Aug. 9, 2018, was one like thousands South Texas families enjoy frequently on warm summer nights.
Jeanna Guajardo, then 31, her sister, 33-year-old Marci Lou Powell, her mother, 55-year-old Maria Isabel De La Garza and her 3-year-old nephew, Joshua Devin Powell, went out to eat tacos before watching the Dallas Cowboys play during Thursday Night Football at her mom’s house.
They never got see the game.
Instead, just east of the intersection on Monte Cristo and Closner roads, then-19-year-old Luis Gonzalez veered from the westbound to the eastbound lane around 9:26 p.m., striking the 2014 Silver Chevrolet Sonic driven by De La Garza after eating dinner with her daughters and grandson.
The impact killed Joshua, De La Garza and Marci Lou and left Guajardo blacking in and out of consciousness.
Gonzalez, who is charged with three counts of intoxicated manslaughter and a count of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injuries, was also seriously injured.
He was trapped between the driver’s seat of a 2006 Silver Malibu Chevrolet and the steering wheel, nearly losing consciousness as his father and a highway patrol trooper kept talking to him to keep him awake, and as they waited for Edinburg firefighters to extract the man from his badly damaged vehicle.
Gonzalez has entered not guilty pleas to all of the charges, and Thursday marked the second day of his trial where Guajardo — the sole survivor in the Sonic — testified through tears about what she remembered from the night and about the injuries she sustained in the head-on collision.
Her last memory before the crash was reaching down to her purse to grab her phone to text her boyfriend that she was on her way home.
When she woke up, she saw her sister’s head lowered and her mother’s head on the steering wheel.
“I could see his hands,” she said of her nephew. “They were just hung over. I couldn’t move or say anything and I blacked out.”
She told the jury she remembers being pulled out of the vehicle, but her next memory is when she woke up in Doctors Renaissance Hospital.
She would spend a month there being treated for broken ribs, a broken hip, an abdominal hernia, a lacerated liver and fluid in her lungs. In all, she underwent three surgeries.
Guajardo also spent two weeks at in-patient rehab at the hospital, where she learned to walk again.
This is the same in-patient rehab where her mother used to work.
While her physical scars are still visible and healed, her testimony revealed the emotional scars are still open.
“Well, at first I would always cry when I was driving,” Guajardo said. “I don’t cry anymore, but the memory is always there.”
In addition to Guajardo, five other witnesses testified, including a Texas Department of Public Safety toxicologist who testified that there was no alcohol in Gonzalez’s blood.
A Texas Highway Patrol accident reconstruction specialist testified that Gonzalez was driving 29 mph at the time of the accident while De La Garza was driving 39 mph.
The speed limit in the area is 45 mph.
That specialist, Sgt. Cesar Villarreal, also testified that both vehicles involved in the crash were salvage vehicles and had been in previous crashes.
The airbags in both vehicles had been removed prior to their sale.
Villarreal said that in his opinion, both vehicles were unsafe.
On the night of the accident, Gonzalez took a single Xanax to calm himself before a date with a woman he had planned after he worked a double shift.
In openings, his attorney, Adolfo Alvarez Jr., said Gonzalez wasn’t intoxicated and told jurors during opening statements that his client fell asleep at the wheel.
The trial continues Friday morning.