Police sergeant allegedly failed to stop drunk driver multiple times before fatal accident
POSTED: Monday, April 7, 2014 - 5:51pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 8:39am
MCALLEN, TX (KVEO NEWSCENTER 23) — A two-year-old drunk driving fatality is casting a shadow on the McAllen police department after a law suit recently filed claims that a police sergeant failed to remove an intoxicated woman off the streets.
It's been more than two years since Jose Mata was killed by a drunk driver while on his motorcycle in Edinburg.
On March 28, 2012, just after 3 o'clock in the morning, Zulai Zamora was on her way home from the Yacht Club in McAllen when she struck Mata with her vehicle at the intersection of Jackson Road and University Avenue.
A law suit filed recently lists not only Zamora and the Yacht Club as defendants, but also the McAllen police department, claiming that an officer had multiple chances to prevent this accident.
"We uncovered that the McAllen police department, specifically Sgt. Coronado, had stopped Ms. Zamora three separate times," explained attorney Lino Ochoa.
According to Zamora's testimony, her first contact with Sgt. Javier Coronado happened when pulled her over near a Denny's restaurant on Nolana Avenue, just a few blocks away from the night club.
Documents show that Zamora remembered having three whiskey drinks and a Jell-o shot before leaving the bar just before 2:30 a.m.
Zamora's testimony also states that Sgt. Coronado pulled her over for driving erratically and without headlights. He asked where she had been, and she told him she just left the Yacht Club and told him she was driving to a gas station.
She does not remember him asking her for her driver's license or insurance. He let her go without any citation.
Sgt. Coronado testified that the only reason he pulled over Zamora was because she did not have her headlights on.
The second encounter between Zamora and Sgt. Coronado happened minutes later when Zamora stopped at a Stripes convenience store on the corner of Nolana Avenue and McColl Road.
Video evidence shows Sgt. Coronado arriving at the same location shortly after.
"At that point, he sends her to a Walgreen's/church parking lot and they're there for 15 minutes," Ochoa said.
According to Zamora's testimony, Sgt. Coronado asked her to meet him at the church parking lot across the street from the Stripes gas station.
Video from the ATM at Rio Bank faces directly into the parking lot where Sgt. Coronado and Zamora met up for 15 minutes. What exactly happened during that time remains unclear.
Zamora claims that the sergeant asked for her phone number and inquired if she was married or single. She also testified that she told Sgt. Coronado if he could drive her to her house in Edinburg because she had had too much to drink.
He refused, and allegedly instructed her to drive home.
Less than 15 minutes after leaving the parking lot, Zamora hit Mata's motorcycle with her car, killing him.
Investigative notes from an Edinburg police officer who responded to the accident scene describes that Zamora had symptoms of intoxication.
"The Edinburg police department determined she was obviously intoxicated, therefore it is impossible for Sgt. Coronado not to have known that Ms. Zamora was intoxicated," Ochoa stated.
Lab results show Zamora's blood alcohol level was at 0.184, more than twice the legal limit.
In addition to the law suit, the Yacht Club is under scrutiny by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for their actions that night.
Lt. Mario Villarreal with TABC explained that the bar is under investigation to determine if any sanctions will be necessary, even though this is a two-year-old incident.
"One of the many things that we look into when an establishment over serves a person is, did the bartender, staff, or anybody on hand, could they have done anything to prevent it?
Zamora pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced on April 17.
Due to the law suit, Keith Pagan, McAllen City Attorney issued this statement:
"The City of McAllen was recently served with the lawsuit suit you reference. The City takes all claims made against it seriously. Accordingly, we are currently reviewing information related to this matter. The City will respond to the claims made in the lawsuit and proceed accordingly, via this office or, if appropriate, outside attorneys. Given that the matter is pending litigation in the early stages of the judicial process, it would not be appropriate for me to comment any further at this time."