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EDINBURG — As of July, Edinburg police have made 225 DWI arrests this year.
Describing this as a surge, the Edinburg Police Department on Wednesday morning collaborated with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.
The event included comments from Hidalgo County District Attorney Toribio “Terry” Palacios and Edinburg Police Chief Jaime Ayala as well as a few others, including Analicia Zarate, a DWI victim who lost her mother on Nov. 12, 2000 when she was just four.
According to Ayala, Edinburg police made 342 DWI arrests and investigated three fatal crashes last year, two of which were alcohol related.
“And there’s no way to measure how many lives our officers saved by making those arrests,” Ayala said. “This year, we’ve investigated six crashes with nine fatal victims.”
Ayala cited the fatal crash that occurred on July 24 that killed four family members, including Luz Aurora Casado, 50, Maria Guadalupe Zavala Casado, 68, and her granddaughter 2-year-old Ellieana Santoy.
Another victim, 10-year-old Shailey Rachel Martinez of Edinburg, died days later on July 28. Martinez was Luz Aurora Casado’s niece.
Ayala urges the public to make a plan when one knows they’ll be indulging in alcohol and asks that they find a designated driver or use the many options of transportation to get home safe, a sentiment Palacios echoed in his speech.
“If you’ve had one beer, don’t drive,” Palacios said. “There’s no need to get yourself behind the wheel. Not with all the facilities we have. Not with all the Lyfts and designated drivers and Ubers we may be able to call.”
Palacios called upon the Rio Grande Valley to come together as one community to potentially help save lives and for the many victims whose lives were taken or affected, such as Zarate’s.
At around 9 p.m. on Nov. 12, 2000, Zarate’s mom, 39-year-old Nereida Flores Garza and 4-year-old Zarate were leaving church and heading home to Mission when a drunk driver failed to yield at a stop sign, crashing into the driver’s frontside quarter, killing Garza instantly and severely injuring Zarate.
She spent a week at the McAllen Medical Center recovering from such a critical condition that medical personnel advised Zarate’s family not to tell her that her mother died as the shock could’ve caused her condition to worsen.
Zarate learned of her mother’s death a month later.
Now 26, Zarate lives in Edinburg with her 4-year-old child and works as a realtor.
“People like to say time heals all wounds, but really it only changes,” Zarate said. “There’s been different stages of my life and, like I said, the wound just changes but the trauma is the same, the root is the same, and it’s that loss.”
She recalls her days in school when she would make Mother’s Day gifts for her father or grandmother unlike her classmates and when given a writing prompt, she’d find herself writing about her mom.
It wasn’t until she was 15 that she discovered MADD and eventually began giving speeches regarding the dangers and effects of driving while intoxicated.
Though she finds doing presentations therapeutic, Zarate said it’s still painful to talk about her trauma and the loss of her mother, but added that it’s worth it if it means it could save someone else from the pain she’s been through.
Zarate compares her mother to Selena Quintanilla, the Grammy Award-winning Tejano singer who was shot and killed at the age of 23, stating that she’s keeping her memory alive by discussing her death as means of helping others.
“Because although she died at 39 I feel like her memory and legacy will continue and that’s kind of part of my role in making sure that our tragedy wasn’t something in vain, and there’s a good outcome from it and prevents people from drinking and driving,” Zarate said.
“As long as there’s one person that I save, I feel like it’s worth the pain that I endure now.”