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The mother of Jaime Garcia Jr., the Progreso teen allegedly murdered by Daena Nicole Gonzalez as she fled from police on April 30, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Edinburg woman, who is suspected of being drunk at the time of the crash.
“We just filed it and we represent the mother and the family member of the decedent, young Jaime’s unfortunate and horrible, catastrophic accident,” Ezequiel “Zeke” Reyna, one of the attorneys representing Garcia’s family, said Friday.
“This is what the family wanted to do,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed by Garcia’s mother, Leonara Ybarra, who is seeking more than $1 million in damages for pain, mental anguish, funeral expenses and legal expenses.
The lawsuit claims that Gonzalez, 27, was negligent as she fled from Progreso police, who had earlier stopped her on suspicion of driving drunk. The suit further claims that Gonzalez’s negligence and “wrongful conduct caused death to Decedent.”
The 18-year-old teen was just weeks away from graduating from Mercedes High School and joining the U.S. Navy.
He had been on his way to spend a Saturday evening playing videogames at a friend’s home when Gonzalez allegedly struck his vehicle with such force that it immediately burst into flames. A preliminary autopsy report found that the blaze killed the young man.
“I’ve seen and experienced so many dreadful incidents, and this is at the top at of the list,” Reyna, a personal injury attorney with more than four decades of experience, said of Garcia’s death.
The incident began when Progreso Police Chief Cesar Solis conducted a traffic stop on Gonzalez’s vehicle after receiving a call that an allegedly drunk woman had been seeing vomiting outside a Progreso gas station.
Solis intercepted Gonzalez, who was speeding north on Farm-to-Market Road 1015 and disregarding red traffic lights.
When the chief approached the vehicle, he noted several signs of intoxication, including a strong smell of alcohol and slurred speech.
When he asked her to get out of the vehicle, he noted even more signs of intoxication, including that she was unsteady on her feet, and that her clothes seemed to be recently stained by vomit and urine.
Gonzalez failed three attempts to complete a field sobriety test, prompting the chief to request assistance from the Texas Department of Public Safety, whose troopers could administer a portable breath test.
As he waited for the trooper to arrive, Solis waved off a Weslaco police officer who had come to assist. He also directed Gonzalez to sit on the rear bumper of her SUV, with its hatch open.
According to a probable cause affidavit for Gonzalez’s arrest, Gonzalez attempted to return to the driver side of her vehicle to speak with a passenger inside. Solis ordered her to return to her seat on the bumper, to which she complied.
But when Gonzalez tried to return to the driver side a second time, she succeeded.
The affidavit states Solis saw her close the rear hatch then run toward the driver side door. Solis physically struggled with Gonzalez, who somehow managed to get inside the SUV and put it in gear.
Rather than be dragged by the moving vehicle, Solis let go and Gonzalez sped away.
Solis initiated a pursuit against Gonzalez as she headed toward Weslaco at a high speed.
The pursuit ended when Gonzalez allegedly struck Garcia’s car as he waited at a red light at Mile 6 North Road.
The impact shoved Garcia’s car into the intersection, where his vehicle collided with a third vehicle. Meanwhile, Gonzalez’s SUV ricocheted over a nearby curb and into the chain link fence of a local business.
According to police, Gonzalez’s speedometer got stuck at the moment of impact at approximately 90 mph.
Garcia’s car was quickly consumed fully by the flames, while the third vehicle also caught fire. Its two occupants, however, were able to escape with minor injuries.
Gonzalez and her passenger were also injured, with Gonzalez requiring surgery afterward.
Reyna, the attorney representing Garcia’s mother, said the young man’s death is a difficult one to process.
“One of the most difficult aspects in our practice is to see such a young human being that was an incredible young man that was just about to graduate from high school lose his life in this manner,” Reyna said.
“All he was doing was going from his home to a friend’s home to go play a videogame.”
But when asked if Garcia’s family will name other defendants in the lawsuit — such as the city of Progreso or its police department — the attorney said that question is less clear.
“The reason for that is because that’s a little bit more (of an) intricate fact situation that requires more investigation and more detailed information that we don’t have at this point in time to determine whether a lawsuit is warranted against the city of Progreso or its chief,” Reyna said.
However, the attorney said he has asked that the vehicles, and any evidence contained therein, be preserved.